Red Wings lose Jakub Vrana to shoulder surgery; he'll miss at least 4 months
Detroit — What a gut punch to begin the Red Wings' season.
Coach Jeff Blashill said Thursday morning after the morning skate forward Jakub Vrana will miss a minimum of four months because of shoulder surgery.
Vrana arrived in Traverse City in time for Saturday morning's practice, and about 10 minutes into the workout, left the ice due to shoulder pain.
Vrana hasn't been on the ice since then, seeing a specialist earlier in the week for further evaluation.
“He’s had some issues with it. He went through the summer rehabbing it and ultimately re-aggravated it,” Blashill said. “Unfortunately, it was the first practice. It could have happened three weeks into the season. Ultimately, surgery is the last option. Jakub thought he could get through the season and unfortunately he couldn’t.”
After arriving from Washington in a deal for Anthony Mantha at the trade deadline in March, Vrana, 25, made an immediate offensive impact.
In 11 games with the Wings, Vrana had eight goals and three assists, including a four-goal game, giving a stagnant Wings offensive attack a jolt.
Having a bigger role and with more ice time available than he had in Washington, many analysts felt Vrana was in for a career-best type of season with the Wings.
“He’s a guy that going into the season we had penciled in some big roles, opportunity to score goals for us,” Blashill said. “It opens up a top-six spot and a power-play spot for somebody.”
Vrana, a restricted free agent, signed a three-year contract worth $15.75 million ($5.25 million salary cap hit) in August.
With Vrana now out for most of the season, it creates a ripple effect throughout the Wings' lineup. There are jobs available in the lineup, chances for more ice time for certain players, and expectations heightened for some players as Vrana's loss offensively will be felt.
A player such as Filip Zadina, who struggled last season offensively, will be counted to produce much more than the six goals he scored last season.
Vrana's absence also creates at least one job among the forwards, with players such as Bobby Ryan, in camp on a professional tryout, and youngsters Lucas Raymond and Joe Veleno all in contention for a regular spot.
Ryan had a goal and an assist, as well as the shootout winner, in Wednesday's 4-3 exhibition victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
“A guy like Bobby Ryan, Lucas Raymond or Joe Veleno, do they make the team? Is there a more direct avenue?” Blashill said. “With the two young guys, they’re going to have to play great. Bobby is going to have to play great. But if they play great, there’s an avenue there for them.”
Raymond and Veleno were both expected to make their exhibition debuts Thursday against Buffalo.
A player such as Adam Erne, who also has had an impressive first week of camp, also could see a bigger role.
In all, it's a fluid situation with many questions to be answered.
“We have unknowns in our top six, but you don’t necessarily win with a top-six, you win with a hockey team, 12 forwards who can play,” Blashill said. “Ultimately, we’re going to have rely on depth than just one or two pure high-end guys. There’s a lot of guys that haven’t necessarily proven that they’re top-six players and that doesn’t mean it can’t be that.
"It just means they haven’t proven it. The positive thing is we have seven more exhibition games, a lot of games to be able to look at guys.”
Raymond was slated to play on a line with Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri, a good opportunity for the young forward to get acclimated to the NHL.
“They’re two really good players,” Raymond said. “They make great choices out there, and that makes it easier for me to play.”
Blashill has been impressed in the early stages of this camp with Raymond's play at both ends of the rink. Raymond, for his part, understands the importance of defensive play at the NHL level.
“It kind of all starts in the defensive zone and you need to have players you can trust in every aspect of the game,” Raymond said. “You want to be a player coaches can trust.”
Blashill has been pleased with Raymond's advanced play, but also wants Raymond to clearly earn, or claim, a spot in the lineup, showing he is ready for this opportunity.
“He’s an accountable player defensively," Blashill said. "If he goes through the whole night and he touches the puck two times, he’s not going to be real effective. If he’s got the puck on his stick all night, we’re all going to walk out of the building saying, ‘Man, he was good.’ "
“He’s a really smart player, he’s good with the puck, he can make a lot of plays. He’s got to make sure he has the puck a lot.
"How do you have the puck a lot? Either you get in the right spots, or you work to get open or you work to get it. And you play good defense to make sure you’re not defending all night. That’s how you end up with the puck."
Erne made a pair of nice passing plays, setting up Michael Rasmussen and Ryan with goals in Wednesday's victory in Chicago.
Coming off, arguably, the best season of his career, Erne showed glimpses of perhaps building on what he showed last season.
"I talked to Adam at the end of last season and told him he made more plays as the year went along, than he had in him, to be honest," Blashill said. "He's earned it (playing time, larger role) the hard way, where he wasn't given anything. He's had to earn his minutes, and he's done it.
"On the power play, he's getting a little bit of time on the penalty kill, but what he's done is made more plays with the puck.
"He's really worked hard at it outside of the regular season, to increase his vision with the puck and make more plays scanning ahead of time, before you get it (the puck)."