Jakub Vrana entered the NHL/NHLPA's player assistance program earlier this year, taking a hiatus from the Detroit Red Wings. As of mid-December, Vrana has been reinstated from the program as he has entered the "follow-up-care phase" according to the NHL/NHLPA's statement. He joined the Red Wings for one practice and was later reassigned to the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins for a conditioning stint in order to get him back up to speed. In a shocking twist of events, the Red Wings put Vrana on waivers Tuesday afternoon in order to make room on the roster for Robby Fabbri. With the offensively gifted forward available on waivers, the NY Islanders should seriously consider claiming him to add some scoring punch.
At first glance, you might be thinking the Islanders cannot afford his $5.2 million cap hit. However, the Islanders have been continually accruing cap space since the beginning of the season and their projected cap hit by the trade deadline is looking to be north of $10 million. The Islanders have an opportunity here to claim a player that is a supremely talented forward that has a knack for finding the back of the net. Vrana does have one more year on his contract, however, the Islanders are projected to have $9.625 million available this summer according to CapFriendly.
When Vrana returned from the player assistance program, he went on the record to explain how good it felt to be back on the ice. "I feel awesome. I'm so happy to be back, see the guys. It's really positive and I'm just happy to be back here," Vrana said.
Vrana (26 years old) is the kind of complimentary player the Islanders have been looking for to pair with Mathew Barzal for quite some time now. The Islanders are already short Oliver Wahlstrom and Kyle Palmieri due to injury. The Islanders would have to give up nothing but cap space in order to acquire a player they desperately need in order to get them over the hump that's labeled them as a mediocre bubble playoff team.
One of Vrana's shortcomings is that he has a hard time staying healthy. He only has two seasons under his belt where he's played over 70 games. If the Islanders do the proper homework on his health, it's certainly worth the risk in a high-risk/high-reward type situation.
Vrana was neck-and-neck with Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers for a while as one of the best players leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft before Vrana ultimately fell to the Washington Capitals at 13th overall. He's certainly showcased that skill, too, as his arrival in Detroit showed that Steve Yzerman just might have won the trade that saw Anthony Mantha go the other way to Washington.
The Islanders have been here before, too, working with Robin Lehner coming out of the player assitance program. That situation turned out to be one that worked out swimmingly for both the team and the player. Now, Vrana's available for the taking for nothing more than cap space. It's a short-term risk that cold lead to a long-term gain if the offensively gifted winger has turned things around. It's certainly something Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello should consider.