Jakub Vrana

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Surging Vrana might be capable of even bigger things for Capitals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

From Alex Ovechkin for Washington to Artemi Panarin for New York, you’ll see plenty of firepower during Wednesday Night Hockey’s bout between the Capitals and Rangers. Even with Nicklas Backstrom sidelined for the game, I’m here to argue that you still might not see enough of one potential rising star: Jakub Vrana.

When you give Vrana’s 2019-20 stats a quick glance, they’re already impressive.

Not only does Vrana already have 10 goals scored in 23 games, but all 10 of them have come at even-strength, tying him for third in the NHL in that category alongside players like Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vrana’s former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky. His eight assists rounds out his numbers to 18 points in 23 games; over an 82-game pace, Vrana would author a 37-goal, 66-point season.

While he’s been riding some hot puck luck since 2018-19 with a 15.1 shooting percentage, the overwhelming message one gets from diving deeper into Vrana’s stats is that the Capitals should strongly consider finding more ways to get him on the ice.

[COVERAGE OF RANGERS-CAPITALS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Despite Vrana’s 18 points in 23 games, he’s only averaging 14:15 TOI per game, which is a career-high and slight uptick from last season’s average of 14:02. Beyond getting some bounces, Vrana’s breakthrough in simple counting stats can probably be chalked up to an increasingly itchy trigger finger. After peaking with 1.96 shots on goal per game last season, Vrana’s getting almost one extra puck on net per evening, averaging 2.78 SOG per game (64 SOG in 23 GP).

It’s unclear if you can derive that from playing a more confident game, getting decent reps with a tremendous playmaker like Evgeny Kuznetsov, or if perhaps someone in the Capitals organization gave Vrana a directive to shoot more. Either way, it’s working out quite nicely, as he’s a significant part of the Capitals’ early work as the NHL’s most dangerous offense at even-strength.

Again, though, I must ask for more.

Just about every number seems to point a neon flashing arrow at “More Vrana.” His heat map at Micah Blake McCurdy’s Hockey Viz is, well, almost off the charts:

Wow.

Admittedly, it would be tough for Vrana to crack the Capitals’ top power play unit, and he’s getting some reps on the second unit (1:35 per game), but his all-around game makes me wonder if more PK work would be warranted.

It’s not as though Vrana is getting totally buried in the Capitals’ lineup, yet with Washington in a strong position (few teams enjoy the luxury of “Can we win the division again?” being one of their burning questions in November), I’d be tempted to see if Vrana would thrive in an even larger role.

And, hey, if all of that is boring … the skill is pretty obvious, too. Not everyone can pull off a Datsyukian shootout move, right?

Just saying.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Eichel scores 4; Milestones for Stamkos, Coach Q

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. Entering play on Saturday the Sabres had lost seven of eight, were riding a six-game losing streak, and needed something to go their way to get things back on track. Their captain came to the rescue in a big way. Eichel scored four goals and provided all of the offense for the Sabres in a 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. It was the 10th four-goal game in Sabres franchise history and the first since Thomas Vanek did it during the 2009-10 season. It is already the the fourth four-goal game in the NHL this season, joining David Pastrnak, Anthony Mantha, and James Neal.

2. Derek Grant, Anaheim Ducks. Sometimes you need an unlikely hero to step up and the Ducks got that on Saturday when Grant scored three goals for his first career hat trick in a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. The win snapped what had been a nine-game point streak for the Blues, as well as a five-game losing streak for the Ducks. Entering Saturday Grant had scored just two goals on the season and only 18 in 228 career games.

3. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. The absence of linemates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog has not slowed down MacKinnon one bit. He took over on Saturday night with two goals — including the overtime winner — and an assist in a 5-4 win for the Avalanche. His overtime goal was a highlight reel tally that helped the Avalanche secure the two points after allowing a two-goal lead to disappear in the final three minutes of regulation. He is now up to 29 points in his first 20 games this season and has three three-point games over the past five. Rookie defenseman Cale Makar also deserves some attention for his four-point game.

Two big milestones

Stamkos scores 400th goal. It came in a losing effort, but Steven Stamkos scored the 400th goal of his career on Saturday. It is a great accomplishment for one of the best goal-scorers of this era, and it also produces a pretty big “what if” question — how many goals would he have today had he not missed so many games in his peak seasons to significant injuries and a lockout? The only active player to hit the 400 goal mark in fewer games than Stamkos is Alex Ovechkin.

Quenneville wins 900th regular season game. Thanks to the Florida Panthers’ 4-3 win over the New York Rangers, Joel Quenneville became only the second coach in NHL history to record 900 regular season wins. Scotty Bowman is the only other coach to hit that number.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • The Pittsburgh Penguins extended the Toronto Maple Leafs’ losing streak to five games in a dominant win. Evgeni Malkin and Dominik Kahun were the offensive stars for the Penguins as they dominated a Maple Leafs team that continues to look completely lost. Read all about this game here.
  • The Dallas Stars received big contributions from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn as they overcame a two-goal third period deficit to beat the Edmonton Oilers in overtime. Read about how Seguin and Benn were difference-makers here.
  • Arizona Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper stopped all 38 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season. He also nearly sparked a goalie fight by slamming Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk to the ice. Read all about that game right here.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks no doubt remembered Pekka Rinne talking about what an “easy” game he had the first time he faced them this season. His night on Saturday was even easier because he only made it through half the game before being benched in a 7-2 rout. Alex Nylander scored two goals for the Blackhawks in the win.
  • Evgenii Dadonov scored two goals for the Panthers in their 4-3 win over the Rangers.
  • Andrei Svechnikov continued his strong sophomore season with an overtime winner for the Carolina Hurricanes. He is now up to nine goals this season.
  • Big win for the Winnipeg Jets against the Tampa Bay Lightning to improve to 8-3-1 in their past 12 games and remain surprisingly competitive in the NHL’s Central Division.
  • Here come the Sharks. Their 4-3 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings improved their winning streak to six games.

Highlights of the Night

The New York Islanders’ point streak hit 14 games on Saturday (13-0-1) thanks to an incredible rally that saw them overcome a 3-0 deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers. Mathew Barzal scored the shootout winner and it was an absolute beauty of a goal.

The best shootout goal of the night, though, belonged to Washington Capitals forward Jakub Vrana for this Datsyuk-ian dangle to beat Jaroslav Halak in the fifth round of the shootout against the Boston Bruins. The Capitals won to improve to 14-3-4 on the season. That is the best record in the NHL.

We told you MacKinnon’s overtime winner was incredible, and here it is.

Blooper of the Night

It probably has to be that bizarre disallowed goal in Montreal where Phillip Danault, capping off a chaotic scramble around the goal line. Read all about it here.

Factoids

  • Jonathan Huberdeau now has more assists than any player in Panthers history. [NHL PR]
  • Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the third set of teammates in the past 30 years to have at least 40 points through their team’s first 22 games of the season. [NHL PR]
  • Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter skated in his 1,000th career game on Saturday, making him the 11th player from the 2003 draft class to reach that milestone. The only other draft class with that many was the 1979 draft class. The Kings were 4-3 winners over the Vegas Golden Knights on Carter’s big day. [NHL PR]

Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Minnesota Wild 3 (OT)
Los Angeles Kings 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Dallas Star 5, Edmonton Oilers 4 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 3, Calgary Flames 0
Winnipeg Jets 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3
Washington Capitals 3, Boston Bruins 2 (SO)
Buffalo Sabres 4, Ottawa Senators 2
New Jersey Devils 4, Montreal Canadiens 3 (OT)
Florida Panthers 4, New York Rangers 3
New York Islanders, Philadelphia 3 (SO)
Pittsburgh Penguins 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 1
Anaheim Ducks 4, St. Louis Blues 1
Chicago Blackhawks 7, Nashville Predators 2
Colorado Avalanche 5, Vancouver Canucks 4 (OT)
San Jose Sharks 4, Detroit Red Wings 3 (SO)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Vrana, Strome among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: Palat saw his ice time dip to 14:53 per night in 2018-19 and he finished with 34 points in 64 games. This season he’s averaging 16:52 minutes a night and more recently it’s been even higher with him logging 18:56 minutes per game. He’s recently played on the second line with Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point and Monday morning he bumped up to the first line with Steven Stamkos, per The Athletic writer Joe Smith. Palat already has five goals and nine points in 13 games this season and this seems like a good time to give him a chance.

Andreas Johnsson, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Johnsson is nothing exciting, but he’s solid. He had 20 goals and 43 points in 73 games last season and he might do a little better in 2019-20 after scoring four goals and nine points through 15 games. Having eligibility on both wings gives him some extra flexibility and he chips in a bit in most common fantasy category. He’s not a bad stopgap when you have an injury.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/LW: Strome has always had so much potential, but he couldn’t seem to harness it for long with the Islanders or the Oilers. Now with the rebuilding Rangers, he might have finally found another level. He has four goals and 11 points in 11 games this season. That’s thanks to his current hot streak, but he’s also averaged an impressive 17:56 minutes in 2019-20, which I think will help his staying power. Take him now if you have an opening for him in the hopes that this will be his breakout campaign.

Michal Kempny, Capitals – D: If you’re looking for a hot defenseman who is available in most leagues, Kempny is about as good as you can do. He’s owned in just 15% of Yahoo leagues and has scored two goals and six points in his last four contests. Just be prepared to drop him when he cools off because he’s probably going to be unremarkable overall this season.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW: Duclair showed promise back in 2015-16 with a 44-point rookie campaign, but that’s still his career-high. It’s too early to write him off at the age of 24, and playing for the lowly Senators is leading to him getting more ice time than ever before (15:33 minutes per game), but he’s still a high-risk pickup if you intend to hold onto him all season. For now though, he’s an interesting short-term play given how hot he is. He’s scored four goals and five points in his last four games.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Jakub Vrana, Capitals – LW: Vrana is on a five-game point streak, but he’s been especially crazy recently with five goals over his last two games. I don’t see him as a great long-term pickup, but you may as well take advantage of his hot streak while it lasts. Just don’t hesitate to drop him when he cools off.

Tomas Tatar, Canadiens – LW/RW: Tatar set a career-high last season with 58 points in 80 games and he seems to be building on that in 2019-20. He’s scored four goals and 11 points in 14 contests, which puts him on pace for 64 points. Despite that, his IPP is actually on the low side, which suggests that he might have actually had some bad puck luck thus far. Take that with a grain of salt, but even after doing that, he does look like a solid addition to most fantasy squads this season.

Oskar Lindblom, Flyers – LW: Lindblom is hot right now with two goals and four points in three games, but he’s also been solid throughout the 2019-20 campaign so far. He has seven goals and 11 points in 13 games, which would represent a big jump from his 33-point showing in 2018-19 if he could maintain his current pace. He probably will slow down – his 24.1 shooting percentage in particular looks unsustainable – but it’s still fair to bet on him comfortably surpassing the 33-point mark. A big part of that can be attributed to the 23-year-old’s development and his increased responsibilities. He’s gone from averaging 13:45 minutes in 2018-19 to 16:54 minutes this season.

Mark Borowiecki, Senators – D: Borowiecki is another player on a hot streak you might be able to ride, but there’s a nice secondary benefit to him. He has a goal and four points in his last four games, so if you grab him now and that streak lasts a little longer then that’s great. If it doesn’t though, the hits he provides are a good consolation prize. He ranks second among defensemen in the NHL with 47 hits in 12 contests and is first in hits per game among those who have participated in at least five contests.

Neal Pionk, Jets – D: Pionk is someone I’ve recommended before, but he’s still owned in just 49% of Yahoo leagues, so for many there’s still time to take him. He’s doing well in his second full NHL campaign and the shift form the Rangers to Winnipeg, which have given him a bigger role, has helped as well. He has two goals and nine points in 15 games this season.

Players You May Want To Drop

Dustin Byfuglien, Jets – D: If you were being patient with Byfuglien in the hope that eventually he’d report to the Winnipeg Jets and resume his NHL career, there isn’t much reason to still hold onto him. While it is possible that he will ultimately decide to play again, the situation changed when he underwent ankle surgery. He’s now expected to miss four months, which basically makes this season a write off no matter what he decides.

Patric Hornqvist, Penguins – RW: Hornqvist has been solid this season with five goals and 10 points in 14 games, but he’s now on the injured reserve list. He sustained a lower-body injury on Saturday and it’s believed that he will be out “longer-term,” per the Penguins. If you’re in a standard league, then Hornqvist doesn’t bring enough to the table to warrant holding onto him while he’s hurt unless you happen to have a spare IR slot to stash him in anyways.

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: Olofsson got off to an incredible start this season with six goals and eight points in seven games, but he has just two assists in his last eight contests. He’s also seen his ice time drop from an average of 18:10 during those first seven games to 16:13 in his most recent eight contests. His hot streak was nice while it lasted, but you may as well look elsewhere at this point.

Timo Meier, Sharks – LW/RW: Meier broke out in 2018-19 with 30 goals and 66 points in 78 games, but he can’t seem to get going this season. Through 15 games he has just two goals and four points in 15 contests. He’s far from the only Sharks player who has underperformed, but he is one of the more extreme cases. I think it’s fair to evaluate your alternatives at this point.

Martin Jones, Sharks – G: Jones is a bit of a different situation as far as the Sharks go. Even when they’re good, he’s somewhat suspect. Jones has his moments, but he had a 2.94 GAA and .896 save percentage in 62 starts last season despite the strength of the team in front of him. His main appeal from a fantasy perspective last season was wins and so far in 2019-20 he doesn’t even have that going for him. He has a 2-7-1 record, 3.52 GAA, and .887 save percentage in 11 contests. Even if the rest of the Sharks bounce back, I’m not sure Jones will be particularly good. He’s one of the weakest starter options in the league from a fantasy perspective.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

The Buzzer: Vrana tricks Flames; Kane the OT hero for Blackhawks

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Three Stars

1. Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals

Vrana recorded his first career NHL hat trick during a 4-2 win over the Flames and now has five goals in his last two games. He’s the sixth player in Capitals franchise history to score the team’s first goal five-plus times through 16 games in a season, according to the NHL.

The special night for Vrana also put him on a unique list as he became the fifth different Czech player to record a hat trick for the Capitals, joining Michal Pivonka, Jaroslav Svejkovsky, Jaromir Jagr, and Robert Lang.

2. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Kane picked up the overtime winner during a 3-2 win over the Ducks after just 24 seconds. With the goal, he passed Stan Mikita (33) for second-most career game winning goals away from home in Blackhawks history, with only Bobby Hull (39) owning more. He tallied his fourth goal of the season, which was also his 950th career NHL point, thanks to a lovely dish from captain Jonathan Toews.

3. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks captain became the first player in franchise history to play 1,000 games with the team. He’s now appeared in exactly 50% of the all-time regular season games played by the Ducks (1,000 of 2,000). Per the NHL, he’s the eighth active player to appear in his first 1,000 career games with the same team, and the 53rd all-time.

There were many honors during the evening for Getzlaf. There was the in-game tribute from the fans inside Honda Center…

And there was also the sweet pre-game video featuring his four kids:

Highlight of the Night

• Congrats to Blackhawks defenseman Adam Boqvist who scored his first NHL goal Sunday night.

• Be sure to catch up on an exciting night for the World Series champion Washington Nationals during the Capitals win.

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Capitals 4, Flames 2
Blackhawks 3, Ducks 2 (OT)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Takeaways from Capitals’ OT win over Blues

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The St. Louis Blues raised their 2019 Stanley Cup banner on Wednesday, but it was the Washington Capitals who ended up raising their hands in victory. The Capitals charged back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Blues 3-2 in OT to begin their season on Wednesday.

Here are a few quick observations from Washington’s 3-2 (OT) win over St. Louis:

Big season for Jakub Vrana?

As usual, the combination of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson provided big problems for the opposition.

The Capitals could be downright scarier if they find other lines that work almost as well, and Wednesday provided some optimism there. Via Natural Stat Trick, the line of Jakub Vrana, T.J. Oshie, and Lars Eller generated a dominant 73.33 Corsi For Percentage in that game. That puck possession translated to success on the scoreboard, as Vrana scored the OT game-winner (assisted by Oshie), while Eller generated two assists.

Ed Olczyk singled out Vrana multiple times during the NBCSN telecast, and it seems like he did so with good reason.

Alex Pietrangelo is going to be rich(er)

Pietrangelo didn’t begin the night as the defenseman on the Blues’ top power play unit — that honor went to Vince Dunn, rather than Justin Faulk or Colton Parayko — but that might be a look St. Louis would be wise to consider. He absolutely walloped the puck on the Blues’ second goal of the night:

Then again, with Ryan O'Reilly joining Pietrangelo on the second unit, maybe the Blues can just spread the wealth?

Alex Ovechkin: still a quick-strike threat

Ovechkin might be someone you can’t leave alone in the slot — or allow access to in the slot — when he’s 50. He remains that way at age 34, as he befuddled Jay Bouwmeester and others on his latest goal:

After the Blues generated a 7-5 shot advantage in the first period, the Capitals managed a 29-15 edge through the rest of the game. They looked like a hungry team, and possibly well-rested after that tough Round 1 loss to the Hurricanes last season.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.