For Cap­i­tals’ Jakub Vrana, ex­tra work is pay­ing off

The Capital - - SPORTS - By Is­abelle Khur­shudyan

GLEN­DALE, Ariz. — When Jakub Vrana was just a hockey-lov­ing boy in the Czech Repub­lic, the NHL still a dis­tant dream, his fa­ther would take him to na­tional team prac­tices for in­spi­ra­tion. He in­sisted they stay un­til ev­ery player was off the ice, and he made sure his son took note of those who were out there lat­est, work­ing at their craft even as oth­ers had long left for the locker room.

The les­son was straight­for­ward, and it’s stayed with Vrana: “He al­ways tell me that if you want to be bet­ter than the other play­ers, you have to work ex­tra.”

Of the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals, Vrana is al­most al­ways the last player off the ice, stay­ing out so late that team equip­ment staff oc­ca­sion­ally has to plead that he wrap it up so they can fin­ish their work for the day. Vrana changes up what he chooses to work on de­pend­ing on how he feels his game is go­ing, and while he still sees a lot that needs fine-tun­ing, the Cap­i­tals see an ex­cit­ing young for­ward that’s con­tin­ued to get bet­ter.

With three goals in the past two games, Vrana now has nine goals with eight as­sists through 28 games, on pace to eclipse his 27-point to­tal in 73 games last sea­son. With wingers T.J. Oshie and Tom Wil­son both out be­cause of con­cus­sions, the team is count­ing on Vrana, sud­denly the se­cond-most pro­duc­tive winger be­hind cap­tain Alex Ovechkin, to help make up for some of the scor­ing lost. All of the ex­tra work seems to be pay­ing off.

“He’s a guy who spends a lot of time out there and works at his game, and I think it’s led to the con­sis­tency that he’s put to­gether this year, con­tin­u­ing to get scor­ing chances ev­ery night and a valu­able of­fen­sive as­set for us,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “Al­ways as a coach, you love some­one who wants to be out there get­ting bet­ter.”

There tends to be an or­der to who comes off the ice when af­ter prac­tices. Vet­er­ans and par­tic­u­larly those who log the most min­utes come off quick­est, and in Wash­ing­ton, Ovechkin typ­i­cally leaves the ice first with cen­ter Nick­las Back­strom not far be­hind him. Bot­tom-six for­wards or third-pair­ing de­fense­men, along with the backup goal­tender, might stay on the ice longer to log the time they might not get in a game. The less es­tab­lished a player, the more he might want to make a good im­pres­sion by prac­tic­ing a lit­tle longer.

“For some, it might be a lit­tle bit of guilt,” cen­ter Lars Eller said with a chuckle. “In V’s case, he’s past that step now . . . . That’s the will­ing­ness to be bet­ter and not be­ing sat­is­fied.”

En­ter­ing Tues­day’s game against the Golden Knights, Vrana had been un­happy with his re­cent per­for­mances, par­tic­u­larly his wall play, so he worked on that af­ter a prac­tice in Ve­gas. He then asked de­fense­man Dmitry Orlov to shoot pucks to­ward the net as he at­tempted to get his blade on them be­cause tips and de­flec­tions could help when the two are on the power play to­gether. If Vrana misses on a chance in a game, he’ll spend the next day prac­tic­ing his shot from that same spot, a bucket of pucks be­side him as he snaps one af­ter an­other.

“Some­times I just wait un­til every­body’s gone, and I have the ice for my­self,” Vrana said. “And then I can do my thing.”


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