The Detroit Red Wings have been eliminated from playoff contention for the 2021-22 NHL season. This comes as the team has seen its offence keep up with the teams it has played during a difficult stretch. One player on the Red Wings that has seen his offence take-off during this stretch is Michael Rasmussen. I previously wrote that Rasmussen has recently begun to play at a rate that the Red Wings thought he would when they drafted him ninth overall in the 2017 NHL entry draft.
This uptick in scoring is in part due to the fact that head coach Jeff Blashill has moved Rasmussen from the center position to the wing. A movement like this has freed up Rasmussen to have fewer responsibilities on the defensive side of the puck. Rasmussen certainly has the size to get to the front of the net to put himself in the best position to score as a center at 6’6” but he can also use this size to make himself a winger styled after Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche who is 6’4”.
One Red Wing that has not struggled to score throughout the entirety of his time with the team is Jakub Vrana. Vrana was acquired by the Red Wings from the Washington Capitals with Richard Panik and a first-round draft pick in exchange for Anthony Mantha. Vrana has scored 13 goals and added 5 assists in 24 games played for the Red Wings. Vrana suffered a shoulder injury 10 minutes into his first training camp practice with his new team.
Mantha also missed time with his new team due to a shoulder injury. For comparison’s sake, Mantha has scored 7 goals and added 10 assists in 28 games played. The difference between Mantha and Vrana is the fact that Mantha has played the majority of his time with the capitals on a line with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom. These two players would certainly be on the first line on any NHL team, let alone the Red Wings.
Vrana was earmarked to play on the first line for the Red Wings. He would have slotted into a role, playing alongside Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi. Larkin and Bertuzzi are two of the more offensively-gifted talents on the Red Wings’ current roster and it would have been interesting to see how Vrana would have fit into a role where he could use his release alongside these two players who would draw the attention of the opposing team’s defence.
In the small number of games that Vrana has played for the Red Wings, he has proven to be one of the most offensively talented players on the team. The fact that he plays on a team that has struggled to score goals is not a slight directed towards the 26-year-old. This offensive talent was on display during a recent game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Vrana skated past Vladislav Gavrikov after a turnover in the Blue Jackets’ offensive zone and put the puck past Elvis Merzlikins.
This is the kind of goal that Vrana is capable of scoring due to his elite shot. The issue for Vrana during his time in Washington is the fact that there was too much talent on the roster. Vrana was not likely to see much playing time behind the likes of Alex Ovechkin and an inconsistent goal-scoring streak meant that he was expendable. Prior to the trade, Vrana was a restricted free agent. The lack of offensive talent on the Red Wings’ roster could lead to Vrana increasing his offensive output.
So, what is a realistic goal total for Vrana heading into the 2022-23 NHL season? The last time he was healthy and played a full season was in 2018-19. Vrana scored 24 goals and added 23 assists for the Capitals and had a PDO (a statistic used to measure the “puck luck” of a team or player) of 1,043 during that season. He will likely receive more playing time for the Red Wings as he is an offensive talent that is all but unmatched on the team’s roster.
The PDO statistic is based on the theory that a team’s or player’s PDO will regress to 100%. This means that Vrana had an above-average 2018-19 season for the Capitals and the Red Wings should not expect this. Keeping this statistic in mind it would not be surprising to see Vrana use his elite release and increase in playing time to score forty goals in a season. This of course depends on his ability to play an entire 82-game season or at least close to that number of games.
Beyond this luck Vrana has scored goals at the second-fastest rate in the NHL since he entered the league in 2016-17, scoring 1.25 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes of play. Only Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs has scored goals at a rate faster than Vrana at 3.8. Matthews is a superstar in the NHL and for Vrana to be compared to him statistically in the short time that he has played in the league is a sign of things that could be to come.
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