Ever since the dreaded injury happened, Detroit Red Wings fans and media wondered how the team would do without someone of Vrana’s caliber out from the top line. Would they still be able to compete for a playoff spot? Or would it be another one of those throwaway years for fans to forget?
Well, powered by rookies Lucas Raymond, who filled Vrana’s spot on the first line, Moritz Seider, and trade acquisition Alex Nedeljkovic, the Red Wings have made the season enjoyable. They had the second wild-card spot for a short while, but it was only because the Boston Bruins played far fewer games than they had. Now, they have lost that position in the standings, and the scoring has somewhat slowed down. It seems as if they’ve come down to Earth, which has led to some problems. What could an injection of Vrana do to the lineup?
Speed and Scoring
There’s plenty of speed to be had in the Red Wings lineup. Dylan Larkin in 2016 broke the fastest skater competition’s record for fastest lap. Although that’s not the bearing on how fast a player is, especially with the puck, it’s still something to be considered. Now that he has a player like Raymond to feed him the puck on the rush, it makes the first line more deadly than in quite a while.
It’s hard to say that Vrana will reclaim his spot on the first line. With the emergence of the young Swede Raymond, it’s hard to believe that head coach Jeff Blashill will remove him off of the line where he has been most successful. Instead, placing Vrana with Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri might be the most likely option when the time comes.
Vrana only played 11 games with the Red Wings in the 2020-21 season, and he showed that he could score plenty of different ways. He made the Red Wings a much more dynamic team, whether it was off the rush or creating with the puck in the offensive zone. He scored at a point per game with eight goals, including a four-goal game against the Dallas Stars. Adding him into the roster right now would provide some extra depth for a team that has relied primarily on the top line, along with Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek for scoring. Coming back and playing against second-line competition may be the best for Vrana to get his feet wet and build confidence as well.
Another area where Vrana can help the team is the power play. It’s no secret that the Red Wings have struggled on the man-advantage this season. With a measly 14.8 percent conversion percentage, they sit 29th in the NHL among all teams. The only clubs that sit below them are (unsurprisingly) the Montreal Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes, and (surprisingly) the Washington Capitals. Adding Vrana to either the first or second unit will make the special teams much more dynamic, and even though there may be some systematic flaws, having the personnel should help the power play get better. It may be marginal, but any improvement will help the Red Wings in the long run.
Spark in the lineup
When a team gets stale or isn’t producing enough to win games consistently, changes can come as soon as one phone call or meeting is finished. Of course, Steve Yzerman making a massive trade because the Red Wings haven’t been an incredible team this season would be odd. However, getting a player like Vrana back at full health would bring a massive boost to the lineup in speed, skill, and morale.
Since their win against the New Jersey Devils on the 18th of December, the Red Wings have won three total games. Two of them came against the Buffalo Sabres in a home and home matchup, and the other was against the San Jose Sharks. Eight of their last 11 games have been losses. That is not great! Having someone like Vrana return from injury to create another spark in play doesn’t sound all that bad.
Although Vrana may not be the player that will score the most points on the team or even the most goals, there’s something about bringing back a player of his caliber that changes the energy around a team. The Eastern Conference playoffs appear to be already decided. Given that the Bruins have three games in hand, it will be hard for the Red Wings to catch them in the second wild-card spot. Eight points separate them.
Given their expectations, the Red Wings are playing well. They haven’t been as bad of a team as many might have expected. However, their play as of late compared to earlier in the season has been worse. Adding Vrana to the lineup would provide players with more speed and scoring ability to work with and the opportunity to move down in the lineup and play against weaker competition. Vrana is a strong skater that can get to the net at will. He’s an excellent player, and putting him in the top-six of a team like the Red Wings will most likely help their record. At the very least, it will help the tangible play look better.
The good thing is that Vrana is skating and looking good. He was on the ice with Troy Stetcher.
Vrana & Stecher on the ice today. pic.twitter.com/fFMvzZTJ6f— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) January 27, 2022
According to Max Bultman of The Athletic, the timeline for his return hasn’t changed, which is an encouraging sign. The best thing that the Red Wings can do is not rush him into contact. His evaluation in February will tell us all we need to know, and once he starts to get involved with contact, it’s go time. He’s progressing forward to a return, and that’s good news to any of the Red Wings faithful. Everyone is excited about information regarding his injury. Now that we’ve received an update that he is on the ice and progressing as scheduled, the possibility of a return is on the horizon. I, for one, am very excited, as everyone else should be.