After spending just over two months in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program, Washington Capitals and current Detroit Red Wings forward Jakub Vrana is back on the ice and ready to take the next step forward, and he's feeling he's in a much better place than he was back in October.
The 26-year-old was reinstated by the program on Friday and skated with the Red Wings for the first time since entering the program. He was in high spirits, and though he spoke on how he was feeling, he didn't want to go too in depth about why he entered the program or the specifics of the recovery process.
"For me personally, I don't feel like sharing anything. It's just my personal reasons," Vrana said, adding, "There's bigger things than hockey in life, and you have to get it in order. You have to deal with some things that is sad, that is bigger than hockey or whatever it could be. It’s important to make the decision and you have to make some decisions that are important in your life and then hockey goes beside."
The NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program was started in 1996, and both the NHL and NHLPA fund the program. The program provides support for players and their families with mental health, substance abuse and more. Counseling is also available to players.
Vrana is still receiving care from the program and is in the follow-up phase, but he is available to Detroit. He has been skating a bit on his own and trying to stay in game shape, but Friday marked his first time in a team skate. And for Vrana, he knows there is still work to be done.
"I was working out, I was staying in shape, just trying to get the best of me every day when I had a chance to do it during the day," Vrana explained, adding, "To be honest with you, I feel as best as I can."
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After months of being off the ice and without his teammates, the Czech winger was excited to get some work in and return to the dressing room. While in the program, he tried to keep up with the Red Wings when he could, and he's been impressed with the youth and the team's talent.
"This was my first day of practice, and the guys are so close here, like one big family and really supportive, so it was nice to see that," Vrana said.
While his timetable remains unclear, Vrana is just relieved to be back on the right track and on the road back to the NHL, and he knows that it'll be a marathon and not a sprint with regard to his full recovery. But so far, everything's been positive on the comeback front.
"This decision is not my decision… I just come here and work hard and see where it takes me," Vrana said. "It's really positive and a lot of energy just to see the guys, just to be here. I missed them."
Vrana spent five years with the Capitals before being traded to Detroit back at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for Anthony Mantha. The Red Wings will face the Capitals on Monday at Capital One Arena. If Vrana is ready to go before then, it would mark his first game back at Capital One Arena since the trade, as he dealt with a shoulder injury last season as well.