Capitals Still Hold Vrana Close, Rooting For His Comeback: ‘Everyone Knows What He Can Do’
The Washington Capitals are aware of the adversity that Jakub Vrana has faced over the last couple of years, and they are rallying around him as he continues his journey with the St. Louis Blues.
ARLINGTON, V.A. — Tom Wilson said he got chills watching Jakub Vrana's video tribute when he made his long-awaited return to D.C. last month while still with the Detroit Red Wings.
It was not only a reminder of what Vrana helped the Washington Capitals accomplish in 2018 but a tribute to his talent and drive that has helped him power through adversity over the course of his still-young career.
"Those are really great memories together, we were like family… it's always nice when you see someone up close and personal on the other side of the ice," Wilson said. "I think D.C. is obviously always going to be a special spot."
Though Vrana is now two seasons removed from the club after he was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline for Anthony Mantha, the Capitals have been keeping up with his journey as he has had to navigate rough waters amid on and off-ice struggles.
"Of course I follow him," Evgeny Kuznetsov smiled, saying that he's enjoyed watching his red-hot start with the St. Louis Blues that saw him light the lamp and get 25 stitches through his first few days with the club. "We spend a lot of time playing together, we won the Cup together, I feel like we was talking a lot during the hockey games."
After a strong finish to 2020-21 with his new team, Vrana aggravated his shoulder at training camp and underwent surgery, which limited him to just 26 games in 2021-22. Then, at the start of this season, the Czech forward played in two games before entering the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. The program assists players and their families with mental health, substance abuse and other issues.
It was a difficult two-month journey for Vrana as he made his way through the program, trying to better himself as a person and added that he was putting his life and getting back on track before hockey.
"I'm feeling unbelievable," Vrana said following his return from the program a few month sback, adding, “I get back from the program, I'm basically doing what I'm told. And for me, I'm just trying to get better as a person on the ice. It doesn’t matter, just work on myself. I'm confident guy. I will never lose that. I'm a confident kid, I'm gonna find a way, I'm gonna find my game. I'm gonna work on myself on the ice until I find it."
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Following his return from the program, the Red Wings sent him to the AHL on a conditioning loan and then, surprisingly, waived him. After he cleared waivers, he spent more time in the minors and got a few more games up with Detroit before being traded to the Blues at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. He has four goals in five games with his new team so far, and he's happy to have fresh start.
"I'm really happy to be here and start all over again with a new team," Vrana said after Friday's morning skate, adding, "I accept it and I'm happy for it and now I'm here, so I want to take [advantage of] this opportunity."
His former teammates had heard about the circumstance and situation surrounding Vrana, and they have rallied around him and have found his journey inspiring as he's made his way back up to the NHL.
"We check in here and there… He's had some ups and downs, but he's a great kid and we had a lot of fun together," Wilson added, also saying, "He's a kid that's hard on himself. He's one of the best talents in the league when he wants to be. We had a ton of fun together, it was really fun having him around every day."
Friday marks the second time the Capitals host Vrana this season, and his teammates are excited to welcome him back and catch up with him again as they continue their playoff push.
"I'm pretty sure he's gonna look at me and smile today, and he doesn't smile a lot, but for some reason, I feel like when he sees me, he always smile," Kuznetsov laughed.
"He's got a fun personality, he's got a ton of skill and he was a huge part of our success here, so I'm happy to see him back on track," Wilson added. "It's no shock or surprise to me. I think everyone knows what he can do. I'm glad to see him doing it."