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Jakub Vrana
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Hockey Analytics

Breaking Out: Jakub Vrana

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: November 13, 2019, 12:49 pm ET

Sometimes, you whiff on a player. I whiffed on Jakub Vrana in conversation with a friend just prior to a fantasy hockey draft.

Today, I eat crow. When the Washington Capitals visit the Philadelphia Flyers for the NHL on NBC broadcast, Vrana will already be on pace to smash his previous season’s career highs.

WED

11/13

6:30 PM

10:00 PM

NHL

Capitals vs. Flyers

NBCSN

http://stream.nbcsports.com/nhl/wednesday-night-hockey

               
               

WED

11/13

10:00 PM

1:00 AM

NHL

Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights

NBCSN

http://stream.nbcsports.com/nhl/wednesday-night-hockey?pid=226639

 

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Man, crow tastes bad.

The write-up I did for the McKeen’s Hockey Yearbook justified the opinion somewhat, but in the end, it’s a whiff.

McKeen's 2019-20 Yearbook - Quick strike winger with soft hands .. excellent puckhandler .. slick, skilled 1-on-1 moves, executed at high speed .. distinguished as a passer and shooter .. fast, compact skater - explosive acceleration .. great agility and edges .. in his second full NHL season, 23-year old posted a career high 24 goals and 47 points .. fuelled by a 16-point third quarter (21-6-10-16), after promoted to a line with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom .. skated with Kuznetsov earlier in the second quarter .. quietly finished the season with three goals in 12 games (12-3-1-4) .. failed to put up a point in the playoffs, while not firing a shot on goal in three games .. received minimal power play time (1:14 per game), and scored 22 goals at 5v5 – on a very high shooting percentage – while outperforming expected goals by a wide margin (+7.74) .. excellent on-ice metrics contributed to the production .. career high in shots offers good base for a another 25-goal season, if he sticks on a scoring line with Backstrom and Oshie – that’s the key.

Written after a breakout season, with images of fading offense and ineffectiveness during the post season, buoyed by inflated shooting percentages and outperforming expected goals.

In effect, all the variables that made him such a desirable player seemed to indicate a downturn – unless he got consistent time with a scoring unit. The final sentence of the write up also held the key to his continued success – maintaining a regular spot on a scoring line.

But in 2019-20, he’s making it clear that swollen metrics aside, Vrana is determined to push those career highs to new heights.

So far, his most common linemate as illustrated by HockeyViz in the link is Lars Eller, while lately he’s skated with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson at even strength to form a formidable trio.

With eight goals and 12 points entering into Monday night’s game against the Arizona Coyotes (he added another assist), he’s already one-third of the way to his career high in goals and 30% of the way into his 40 point career highs from 2018-19. Highlighting this is a November 3rd hat trick – the first of his career and a second star of the week capture.

Better yet, he is achieving his results with a point on 76% of on-ice goals scored. Essentially earning a point on three-quarters of the goals scored while on the ice at 5v5.

Jakub Vrana Points

 

Remain cognizant of the high 20% individual shooting percentage, relative to a 12.8% on-ice shooting percentage, which is high itself. He’s doubled his 3.85 expected goals (xG). Those are unsustainable in elementary terms, but there is balance in rate of shot generation.

When isolating the 23-year old’s prior two seasons where he’s played a significant amount of games, his individual shooting rates have dramatically increased at even strength and on the power play. He’s generating a higher pace of individual shot attempts, scoring chances and high danger scoring chances per 60 minutes of play relative to his last couple of seasons.

 

Jakub Vrana Shot Metrics

 

At 5v4, entering Monday night, with secondary ice time, he’s accounted for 50% of the goals scored thus far in 31 minutes and already flirting with his career high of four (4) points. If that percentage increases, career highs are almost a surety.

 

Jakub Vrana 5v4 Poionts

 

Expected Goals

For the most part, the early season shot distance discrepancies have subsided and games are returning to a level that makes it saf(er) to use metrics such as expected goals once again.

And thank goodness, it is so. I place a lot of value into expected goals as a standalone and integrated metric.

If expected goals is a new concept, here is a primer to get up to speed, with accompanying links for more in-depth detail. In it’s simplicity, an expected goals model supplants pure shot quantity to include elements of shot quality, like distance to the net, rebounds, rebound distance, angles etc. Some models will include pre-shot movement and passing to make it even more sophisticated.

The chart below outlines the 10-game moving average of goals and expected goals while Vrana is on the ice – regardless of linemates. The trio of Vrana, Wilson and Kuznetsov have been on fire, and together at 5v5, the results are striking. The spike at the end of the on-ice goals for is indicative of the current state of that line – and ongoing success at even strength.

 

Jakub Vrana On-Ice Expected Goals

 

Even when taking the on-ice metrics to the scoring chances level, differentiating between low, med and high danger scoring chances, there’s a steady incline in high danger chances and the uptick in medium chances reminiscent of the xG spike in the above chart. Of course, the one with the biggest hit is the low danger areas – an almost perfect scenario.

 

Jakub Vrana Scoring Chances

 

The good news is that he is becoming an impactful player for the Washington Capitals. The downside of that success is at the end of the two year bridge deal the 23-year old 1st round pick in 2014 (13th overall) signed in the summer of 2019. He will become a Restricted Free Agent (with arbitration rights) at the end of 2020-21, surely to receive an extension significantly greater than the $3.35 million cap hit.

It’s not unfeasible to expect that dollar and cap hit to almost double in the $7 million range similar to comparables like William Nylander and Nico Hischier.

 

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey