Red Wings expect 'uber-talented' Jakub Vrana to flourish in new environment
Detroit — Just like Anthony Mantha could benefit from a fresh start in Washington, the same could be true for new Red Wing Jakub Vrana.
There are lot of similarities between the two. They’re somewhat comparable players and they’ve had similar potholes this season.
It’s also why many analysts feel this, ultimately, could be a profitable trade for both organizations.
“Win-win scenario,” said NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton, who likes the Capitals’ short-term benefits of the trade, given Mantha’s strengths as a player placed onto Washington’s talented, big, championship-proven roster.
But given Vrana’s potential and skill level coupled with the first- and second-round picks Detroit received, most analysts felt the Wings got the edge in the trade and in the long term.
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“(Vrana is) a comparable player, albeit a little bit younger (25 to 26), more flexibility in his contract and (draft picks),” Lawton said. “The draft picks, albeit a little late (in rounds), still fit the plan that (general manager) Steve (Yzerman) is on.
“The accumulation of a high number of draft picks will serve Detroit well. Steve recognizes talent.”
The complete trade was Mantha to Washington for Vrana, forward Richard Panik, a serviceable veteran who can play up and down the lineup, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round selection.
The deal sent reverberations around the NHL, and specifically in Detroit, where Mantha was considered a cornerstone of the rebuild after signing a four-year, $22.8 million contract extension last summer.
But Mantha was dealt not even one full season into the contract by Yzerman, who couldn't resist the juicy draft picks while dealing comparable players at comparable points of their careers.
Yzerman said Monday during his media chat that both players were playing below most people’s expectations.
"Anthony and Jakub are both good players, but it is fair to say they are both underperforming their historic statistics,” Yzerman said. "Jakub has been on a very good team in Washington with a lot of talent, so we're hoping he can play a bigger role here on our team and thrive in that situation."
For most Wings fans, how Vrana develops in Detroit will make or break this trade. But when you examine his time in Washington, and mostly this season, you see a lot of similarities to Mantha.
Vrana, 25, was a healthy scratch in Washington for two games this month (April 2 and 4) and his goal on Friday was his first in a month.
For a player who was a key fixture of Washington’s Stanley Cup team and notched 25 goals and 27 assists in 69 games last season, Vrana only had 11 goals and 14 assists in 39 games this season and saw his playing time slashed.
Vrana seemed to clash with new Capitals coach Peter Laviolette, not fitting in with Washington’s new, more structured style of play. Vrana wasn't playing well defensively and appeared to be in Laviolette's dog house.
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Mantha, obviously, had many similar clashes with coach Jeff Blashill.
Laviolette addressed Vrana during Washington’s Zoom media chat Tuesday after the morning skate.
“When you say Jakub and me, or Jakub and a coaching staff, it’s just the idea of how a team needs to play in order to be successful on a nightly basis, and certainly in the playoffs when things become heavy,” Laviolette said. “It was never about one person. It’s about a style and way every player has to play on a successful team.
“You have to play with a certain identity and that’s what we’re trying to get through our team, and it’s not always there. It’s inconsistent at times throughout the team. Some of the conversations with Jakub did revolve around that.”
In announcing the trade Monday, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan felt Vrana was a “frustrated” player who could use a change of scenery.
“He's a good young player,” MacLellan said. “We won a Cup, he was a part of it. Part of it was Jakub's a little frustrated with where he's at here within the organization. Probably wants a little more ice time, wants more responsibility and there was a tugging war between coaching staff and staffs that have had him and the way he was playing.
“So we had a frustrated player and we tried to move on from that.”
Lawton was not shocked Washington would move Vrana, considering he was one of the few options MacLellan had as a bargaining chip.
But in doing so, Washington was dealing an impactful player.
“He’s an uber-talented guy,” Lawton said. “Much like Mantha, better in some areas. His goal-scoring ability is high. (He was on a) 30-goal pace last year, having a bit of a down year and is still cresting at about 20.
“I’m bullish on Vrana. He won a Stanley Cup in Washington and the Wings are hopeful that’ll rub off on the other guys.
“If Vrana can accept more responsibility and round out his game, this will be a terrific trade for the Red Wings.”
Blashill was quick to point out after Monday’s victory in Carolina that Vrana and Panik will have an opportunity to make a “good impact” over the final month of the regular season.
Blashill said he talked with defenseman Filip Hronek, who knows Vrana well, and felt Vrana will fit well into the Wings' room from a personality standpoint. Blashill also feels Vrana’s skill set will complement the team.
Blashill likes the way the Wings have adapted to understanding how they have to play to be successful, with a work ethic and commitment to each other. Monday's 3-1 win was about the Wings' doggedness and relentlessness overcoming Carolina's talent.
“He’s (Vrana) got real good speed. He’s put up points over the years he’s been in the NHL,” Blashill said. “The expectation for both Jakub, Richard, and all the guys is doing it on a consistent basis.”