GLENDALE, Arizona – While Jakub Vrana was just a boy hockey fan in the Czech Republic, the NHL was still not a dream, his father took him to see the national team practice. He insisted that they stay until all the players leave the ice and he made sure that his son took note of those who had gone out later, working on their craft even though others had long gone to the locker room.
The lesson was simple, and she remained unchanged with Vrana: "He always tells me that if you want to be better than other players, you have to work more."
Among the Washington Capitals, Vrana is almost always the last player to leave the ice, staying so late that team team employees sometimes have to ask him to finish it in order to finish their day's work. Vrana changes his work according to the way he feels his game evolve. Even though he still sees a lot of things to tweak, the Capitals are seeing an exciting young striker who has continued to improve.
With three goals in two games, Vrana now has nine goals and eight assists in 28 games, surpassing her 27 points in 73 games last season. With wingers T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson are both absent due to concussions. The team is counting on Vrana, the second most productive winger behind captain Alex Ovechkin, to help catch up on some of the goals lost. All the extra work seems to be paying off.
"It's a guy who spends a lot of time outside and working on his game. I think that has contributed to the consistency with which he's climbed this year, continuing to have opportunities to score every night and a valuable offensive asset for us, "said the coach. Todd Reirden said. "Still as a coach, you love someone who wants to improve."
There is usually an order as to who gets out of the ice after practice. Veterans, especially those who record the most minutes, succeed the fastest. In Washington, Ovechkin usually leaves first place on the ice with center Nicklas Backstrom, not far behind him. The six forward or third pair defenders, as well as the substitute goalkeeper, could stay on the ice longer to record the time they might not play in a game. The less a player is established, the more he will want to make a good impression by training a little longer.
"For some, it could be a bit of a guilt," Lars Eller said with a chuckle. "In the case of V, he has passed that step now. . . . It's the desire to be better and not be satisfied. "
Tuesday, in the game against the Golden Knights, Vrana was unhappy with his recent performances, especially his wall game. So he worked there after training in Las Vegas. He then asked defender Dmitry Orlov to throw pucks at the net and tried to put his blade on them, as spikes and deflections could help when both players are at power play together. If Vrana misses a chance in a game, he will spend the next day training from the same place, a bucket of pucks next to him, firing one after the other.
"Sometimes I wait until everyone is gone and I have ice cream for me," Vrana said. "And then I can do my thing."
The practices revolve around team play and system work, so Vrana works on his individual skills when he stays on the ice afterwards. "It makes the game easier," he said. He also learned that Jaromir Jagr, second scorer in the history of the NHL and fellow Czech, would record additional sessions on ice when no one else was around for the same reason.
From time to time, coaches will tell players that they play too much and save more energy for the game, but Reirden said the Capitals were "not there with [Vrana] now; he is still a young guy full of energy. First-round pick in 2014, Vrana is the latest high-end striker the Capitals have come up with. Even though he is only 22 years old, he has already established himself among the top six corps of the team. .
"He's really maturing in front of our own eyes and becoming a better professional than he has been in the past," said Reirden. "His speed is a factor. His release is great. He does a lot of things to help us win games. "
But ask Vrana, and he will say that he should be stronger in the battles or that his hands could go faster and that his shots were still missing too often at the net. He learned a long time ago what it takes to be better.
"The more you are here, the more comfortable you feel, but it's also the same feeling as when you come here," Vrana said. "You must always go produce. You play in the NHL for an NHL team, so you have to be good. It does not matter if it's your first year. Since my first match, I wanted to produce, and I did not blame my first year. I just wanted to come here to dominate my game, play well and try to do everything I could to be that way.