While Steve Yzerman has made numerous moves and signings in his first two years as General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings, few have been as highly praised as his trade that sent star forward Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals for forwards Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, and a 2021 first-round pick and 2022 second-round pick. Immediately, Vrana had a massive impact for his new team, scoring 11 points in 11 games (8 G, 3 A), including a four goal night against the Dallas Stars. He is widely considered the best player currently on Detroit’s roster and many were excited to see what a tandem of Vrana and Dylan Larkin could do together in a full NHL season. Unfortunately, that will have to wait.
Within the first ten minutes of Vrana’s first preseason practice, he left after a shoulder injury flared up on him. After seeing a specialist, it was announced that he would require shoulder surgery, causing him to miss up to four months. While the Red Wing’s are by no means in a spot to compete, this will be a massive blow to a team that has finally started to show some signs of life. Vrana has silently been one of the league’s best players over the past few years, with him being behind only seven players in even-strength scoring rate (5v5 Goals for every 60 minutes played) since he started his career. He is a phenomenal forward, and a young one at that, being only 25 years old. He still has yet to hit his prime and when he does, the Red Wings will have an incredibly lethal asset on their top line. So how does this injury impact the team in the long run?
First and foremost, Red Wing fans around the world, this is not the time to panic. Detroit is nowhere near being ready to compete. Will they be better than previous years? No doubt. They have a stronger goalie tandem, better defenseman, and a slightly more adept offense to boot. One of the main reasons Steve Yzerman pursued Vrana was to inject offense into the lineup, as Detroit’s has been abysmal, and most importantly, they needed a top scorer. In Washington, Vrana was always overshadowed by players like Alex Ovechkin, TJ Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, so leaving to a team where he was going to be one of the top players for a long time to come was a no-brainer. However, his absence from the lineup will obviously see less goals scored and put more pressure on other top players like Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi. For a long time, Larkin and Bertuzzi have been the only players on Detroit that have been able to consistently turn up offense but neither are natural goal scorers like Vrana. Larkin is adept at driving and setting up the play, and Bertuzzi is an awesome net front presence, scoring many “garbage goals” in doing so. The added pressure these guys are going to face is going to be noticeable, and the Red Wings will need guys like Pius Suter, Robby Fabbri, and Filip Zadina to step up and help out.
On another note, this opens the door for other players to fill in the gap Vrana leaves on the wing. Should he not have been injured, Detroit’s forward lines more than likely would look something like:
Gagner-Stephens-Ryan (On a PTO but will likely make the team)
Detroit currently has numerous players waiting on the sideline for their chance to make the big club permanently, and while Vrana’s injury is largely a negative, the positive is that players like Lucas Raymond, Joe Veleno, and Givani Smith will more than likely see action while waiting for the Czech star to return. Smith, who has the most NHL experience of the three with 7 points (3 G, 4 A) across 57 games can bring grit and a pseudo-enforcer type presence to the lineup, Veleno, who made his NHL debut this previous season, is on the brink of becoming an NHL regular and will more than likely get numerous looks throughout the season thanks to Vrana being out, and Raymond is a star in the making, who while untested at the NHL leve, has looked very comfortable in the preseason and has a legitimate shot at making the club right out of training camp.
Another positive take away from the Vrana injury is that it more than likely will lead to Detroit getting a better position in the draft, allowing them to hopefully continue a trend of strong draft classes like they’ve had over the past couple years. With this year’s entry-level draft looking like one of the strongest ones in a while, it may be worth the suffering Red Wings fans may experience this season while missing their best player.
With the time to compete drawing ever closer, Vrana will no doubt be a key piece in the next few years when this team is ready to compete. Until then, maintaining his health is a key priority, especially in a year where there’s no need to risk further injuring such an important piece of the puzzle on a team that has a very bright future.