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Behind The Numbers

Vrana can sustain scoring pace at even strength for Capitals

Forward producing because of shooting percentage, shot volume, lineup placement

by Rob Reese @NHLReese / Fantasy Editor goes behind the numbers to examine wing Jakub Vrana's hot start to the season and what makes the Washington Capitals forward unique compared to other top goal scorers in the League.

Jakub Vrana has 15 goals this season for the Washington Capitals with each coming at even-strength. That has him tied for the NHL lead with Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand and Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl. The 15 total goals have him tied with New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin and Ottawa Senators forward Anthony Duclair, despite Vrana not playing on Washington's top power-play unit. 

To put his numbers in perspective, Vrana is on pace for 37 even-strength goals this season, the same number Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares had when he led the League in that category last season. 

It's worth noting Vrana's shooting percentage of 15.5 percent is slightly higher than his NHL career-average of 13 percent, suggesting he could maintain his torrid pace. The biggest change with Vrana this season has been his additional shot volume. Through 33 games last season, he had 62 shots on goal. In the same amount of games this season, he has 99. It's a sizable difference considering he's averaging an additional 42 seconds of ice time per game this season compared to last season.

Video: VAN@WSH: Vrana buries one-timer for opening goal

It also helps that Vrana has solidified line placement in the top six for the first time in his NHL career, most frequently skating with right wing T.J. Oshie, and center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was skating on the top line with left wing Alex Ovechkin and right wing Tom Wilson in place of Nicklas Backstrom, who missed eight games with an upper-body injury.

It's not outlandish to suggest consistent exposure to Kuznetsov, second on the Capitals with 19 assists in 30 games, could benefit Vrana, or at the very least help him maintain his league-leading pace. Kuznetsov led Washington with 36 even-strength assists last season and ranks seventh in the NHL with 154 even-strength assists since 2015-16 behind Oilers center Connor McDavid (185), Panarin (170), Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (170), Draisaitl (158), Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau (156) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (156). 

Vrana's even-strength success does warrant the question, why haven't the Capitals let him have a chance on the top power-play unit? It could be that Washington, with the fifth-highest power-play percentage in the NHL (24.0 percent) doesn't want to alter its chemistry or recent track record with the man advantage (fourth-best power play since 2015-16; 22.3 percent) is too convincing for a change in personnel.

Regardless, if Vrana starts to see an increased role on the man advantage or not, his league-leading pace at even-strength is sustainable based on shooting percentage, shot volume and lineup placement.

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