Jakub Vrana’s Surprising Strong Two-Way Start to NHL Career

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Posted December 20, 2016

One of the biggest adjustments that young NHL players have to make is on the defensive side of the puck. Growing up, the better you are on offense, the less emphasis is put on the other side of the puck.

But once you make it to hockey’s highest level, it is just as critical to playing strong on the defensive side as it is the offensive. If you can’t make the adjustment, your stay in the NHL generally isn’t too long.

When the Washington Capitals drafted Jakub Vrana with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 draft, they were banking on his high offensive upside and have gotten that early on in his professional career.

During the past two seasons (including this year) with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, Vrana has lived up to that billing, registering right at a point-per-game pace up to the where he finally got the call to the big club in D.C.

While the offense hasn’t quite caught up to the NHL level yet, Vrana has just three points in nine games so far, his two-way play has been more than worthy of the line he has been matched up with as of late.

Being squeezed in with two of the Capitals’ more defensive-minded forwards, Lars Eller and Daniel Winnik, Vrana’s two-way metrics has been some of the best on the team, albeit the small sample size.

When it comes to puck possession at even strength, no Capital has a better Corsi-For percentage (CF%) than Vrana, posting a 58.52% mark. That means when he is on the ice, the action is being pushed to the opposing goal. This is showed even further in his 59.09% Scoring-Chances-For percentage (SCF%) mark, which counts how many of the scoring opportunities go in the Capitals favor while he is on the ice.

As far as suppressing shots, Vrana is sixth on the team with a 26.64 Shots-Against-per 60 (SA/60) mark. 52.38% of the goals scored while Vrana has been on the ice have been for the Capitals.

His Expected-Goals-Against-per 60 (xGA/60), which determines how many goals a player should allow based on the opponent’s shot location, type, etc., of 1.98 is best on the entire team. The fact that his actual GA/60 of 0.67 is lower than his expected number is that much better. Basically, the Capitals are getting scored on far less than they should be while Vrana is on the ice. This is also reflected in his even strength, on ice save percentage, which is 97.50%. That mark is second only to Winnik.

Again, the scoring hasn’t been there for Vrana, his lone tally being on the power play and both Eller and Winnik have just six even-strength goals between them. Vrana has posted the worst Goals-For-per 60 (GF/60) and On-Ice Shooting Percentage (Sh%) on the team with a 0.67 and 2.27 mark, respectively.

It hasn’t been for a lack of opportunities, as Vrana has started 39.06% of his shifts in the offensive zone, good for fourth on the team.

While the Capitals would more than likely want to see more offense out of Vrana, they can’t argue with his play in his own end. Posting the numbers he currently has, it won’t be too long before things get going for him offensively.