“Thanks,” he said with a confident grin.
Vrana scored the lone goal in the Capitals’ 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night. It was the second one of the 21-year-old’s career — both coming on the power play — and it was an encouraging sight for Washington. With Andre Burakovsky still out with a hand injury and prospect Zach Sanford traded to St. Louis in the deal that brought defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to town, the spotlight is suddenly on Vrana to be a reliable forward on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
But if Vrana is supposed to feel pressure, he doesn’t.
“I mean, I feel very comfortable on the ice, you know?” Vrana said. “It’s nothing like I feel stress or anything. I feel comfortable with my teammates, and it helps me a lot. We talk about everything and sit together. I just try to do my job and work as hard as I can.”
Vrana, Washington’s 2014 first-round pick, played in 12 games with the Capitals earlier this season, scoring one goal and two assists. He was sent back down to the American Hockey League when Washington Coach Barry Trotz felt he hit a rookie wall of sorts. A healthy, winning lineup didn’t create any opportunities for Vrana to play in the NHL again for two months, and when Burakovsky got hurt, it was Sanford that stepped into the third-line right wing spot.
But the trade for Shattenkirk shipped Sanford out on Monday night, and the team recalled Vrana. On Thursday night, he played just 10:13, but he logged a game-high four shots.
“I think what happens with young guys, he knows he’s not up here for one game, and then he’s going to have to set the world on fire or he goes back to Hershey,” Trotz said. “He’s come up a few times, and every time he’s come up, he’s felt more part of the team. He feels more relaxed. He can just focus on his game, and what he does he really well. I think all those things combined, it really helps. He’s got a sense of belonging. You can’t really hand a young player confidence. They’ve got to earn it a little bit.”
Vrana looking more at ease playing in the NHL is important to the Capitals. Washington didn’t acquire a veteran forward for depth before the trade deadline, trusting that Vrana could act as the team’s 13th forward in the playoffs and could help the team with his speed and skill. He certainly looked as though he belonged Thursday night.
“Of course first few games, you kind of adjust to the game, and it’s good feeling to don’t be stressed, to feel relaxed and don’t feel stressed out cause then you don’t play your game,” Vrana said. “I’m just trying to focus to play the system here and do my job.”