PHILADELPHIA — After he had slipped into the red sweater, signed autographs through a long line of children, processed through an even longer line of interviews and grinned through a congratulatory call with Alex Ovechkin, 18-year-old Jakub Vrana was whisked away through the bowels of Wells Fargo Arena and into his future with the Washington Capitals.
“I just wait until someone say my name and when it happened, I was so happy and feel like something new starts and just try to do everything to make the team,” Vrana said.
Rather than make a draft-day deal, Washington remained at No. 13 and picked the Czech winger who starred at the under-18 world championships this season with eight goals in seven games. He follows in a long Capitals tradition of drafting Europeans (six straight first rounds) and forwards, and said the most frequent NHL comparison connects him to Los Angeles’s Marian Gaborik.
“I little bit check him out, like I watched him,” Vrana said. “He’s very good skater and really skilled player.”
Speaking with solid English learned over three seasons in the Swedish Hockey League and wearing a wide grin that got even bigger once Ovechkin called, Vrana held few immediate expectations for his career with the Capitals.
“I don’t know,” he said, when asked how long until he believes he can reach the NHL. “I haven’t been on any camp yet. I haven’t tried yet, so we will see. I will try to [get] my spot and do my best.”
Ranked the fourth-best European prospect for this draft class by NHL Central Scouting, Vrana carries a reputation as a speedy skater with a hard shot, but as ESPN.com’s Corey Pronman wrote in a quick reaction, “can try to do too much and be selfish at times.” Vrana struggled to log ice time with the SHL’s Linkoping this season, scoring just two goals in 24 games, but he excelled in the junior ranks for the organization, with a 32-point season in the SuperElit league in 2012-13.
“Yeah you’re playing with men and you’re doing well,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “That’s a good sign.”
A native of Prague, where he skated at a rink owned by the brother of current Capitals scout Vojtech Kucera, Vrana left home at age 15 to move to Sweden.
“It was really early,” he said. “It was a good choice, I think. I’m really happy with that.
“I was there alone in apartment. I need to learn lots of stuff. Cooking or something like that. I think that helped me a lot with life too.
“Of course, I miss my family, but the choice why I go there was hockey, and I love hockey so I was really happy every day with the practices and everything.”