Jakub Vrana walked through the tunnel for warm-ups on Thursday night, stepping onto the ice before glancing behind him. The rest of the team hadn’t followed, letting the 2014 first-round pick take a solo lap on the ice before his NHL debut.
Vrana said he “kind of had a feeling” the traditional prank on rookies was coming.
“It’s obviously moment I never forgot, right?” he said. “It’s funny.”
Vrana’s debut was overshadowed by a disappointing performance by the Capitals in a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders. But Coach Barry Trotz seemed pleased with how Vrana did in his first NHL experience. With his parents watching from Prague, Vrana nearly scored on his very first shift, a kick save from goaltender Jaroslav Halak preventing Vrana’s backhander from finding the back of the net.
“Everything happened so quick,” Vrana said. “If I could take it back, I would probably shoot up, but you can’t do it. So, just look forward here.”
“Before the game, I didn’t know what to expect, right?” he added. “Obviously, the first shift helps a lot. Then I just kind of cooled down and tried to play my game.”
In a special teams-heavy game, Vrana didn’t see the ice much, skating a team-low 10:10. That was new for a player who’s been playing heavy minutes in the American Hockey League with power-play responsibilities. Vrana might be getting a greater role against Tampa Bay on Saturday; in Friday’s practice, he replaced Andre Burakovsky on the second power-play unit.
Vrana spent last year in the American Hockey League and got off to a blazing start this season with nine goals and seven assists in 18 games, so the Capitals decided to see how he’d handle his first NHL experience. With T.J. Oshie (upper-body injury), there’s a vacancy for Vrana in Washington’s top-six forward corps, and especially against the Lightning on Saturday, the team could use his speed.
“I thought he was fine,” Trotz said on Thursday night. “Obviously, with all of the power play and penalty kill in that game, the five-on-five ice time — because he doesn’t have really a role with us and just came in. But I thought he was fine. Got the first shot, I think, of the game. I thought he had a couple of good wall plays. He’s a real good skater.”
Said Vrana: “It was a new experience, and I had a great feeling out there. I had a few shots, and obviously, I miss. Kind of hurts to end up with a game like this.”