If one were to generalize the recent history of Washington Capitals first-round draft picks, a "skilled European forward with offensive flair" would be the most apt description.
That trend continued Friday when the Capitals selected Czech forward Jakub Vrana with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 draft. The last North American chosen by the Capitals with their first selection of the first round was defenseman Karl Alzner in 2007, spanning six picks.
"That's not a concious effort," general manager Brian MacLellan said of Washington's predilection for drafting Europeans. "He can really fire the puck. [Our scouts] refer to him as a sniper."
The 18-year-old spent last season with Linkoping of the Swedish Hockey League, splitting time between the senior and junior teams. Combined, he scored 16 goals and 28 points in 48 games. In the Under-18 World Championships, Vrana led all players with eight goals in seven games, showcasing his heavy shot and creativity.
“You never know when it’s going to be your last goal,” Vrana joked when asked about his ability to score with great panache. “You have to celebrate it.”
Vrana, ranked as the fourth-best European skater by NHL Central Scouting, left his native Prague at 15 years old to join Linkoping, but spent his formative years skating on a rink owned by former Capitals defenseman Frantisek Kucera. Frantisek's brother, Vojtech, works as a European scout for Washington and kept tabs on Vrana's development.
Vrana's selection was in tune with Washington's drafting philosophy of selecting the best player available, though MacLellan did attempt to move up in the draft order.
Touting a package of the 13th and 44th overall picks, MacLellan sought an opportunity to choose Red Deer Rebels defenseman Haydn Fleury, one of the highest-rated prospects on the Capitals' board.
Yet the trade did not come to pass when Fleury went seventh overall to the Carolina Hurricanes, so the Capitals immediately turned their attention to Vrana.
“It was fun trying to [move up],” MacLellan said. "Then when we couldn’t do that, we were content to make our pick where we were.”
Vrana will assuredly attend Washington's development camp in two weeks, and MacLellan said Friday that his placement within the organization would be determined by his performance. It is a challenge that Vrana relishes.
"I think you can make better everything as a player, so I will work on everything," Vrana said. "I want to be better in everything, I want to be the best."
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