The Penalty Kill
My last suggestion is perhaps the most radical. Though he has not even played a total of five minutes shorthanded in his career, I submit that Jakub Vrana’s skillset would transfer neatly into a role with the Caps’ penalty killers.
While Washington’s PK is effective, it is composed mostly of players with minimal offensive upsides, meaning the unit is ill-equipped to challenge a defensively deficient power play unit while shorthanded.
Vrana could leverage the same skills that make him a five-on-five weapon while shorthanded. With most NHL teams now employing four forwards with the man advantage, Vrana would find himself with ample opportunities to attack players on the rush unaccustomed to defending such chances. In this way, Vrana could provide Washington with a legitimate shorthanded scoring threat, something the current stable of Capital penalty killers struggles to provide.
The simple fact is that Washington is not presently taking full advantage of Jakub Vrana’s gifts. I am not the first to suggest a larger role for the young winger, but I wanted to explore possibilities more specific than a blanket increase in minutes (which would be a great start). With a few simple adjustments, they could better harness one of the league’s most underrated players.
In an early season interview with the Washington Post’s Samantha Pell, Vrana reflected on his affect—that of a “happy kid”—and the perhaps ill-advised tattoo he does not remember getting after the Caps took home the Stanley Cup.
In the same article, Laviolette noted that “Jakub Vrana is part of that [leadership] group. He’s not a kid anymore…his hand is on the rope.” Now it is time for Jakub Vrana’s usage to reflect that status. It may not make a tremendous difference, but, for a team operating at relatively thin margins already, even a small boost could provide the necessary jolt for the Washington Capitals to make it out of a competitive East Division.
Note: All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick