Under former Capitals general manager George McPhee the Capitals drafted with a European flair.
That trend continued Friday night in Philadelphia when new general manager Brian MacLellan selected center Jakub Vrana with the 13th pick overall of the NHL draft.
Vrana, 18, was born in Prague, Czech Republic, but moved to Sweden when he was 15 and has played the past three seasons there.
The Capitals have taken a European with their first pick of the draft in seven straight years, with five of them coming from a Swedish league – Anton Gustafsson in 2008, Marcus Johnansson in 2009, Filip Forsberg in 2012, Andre Burakovsky in 2013 and Vrana this year.
Vrana has two more years on his contract with Linkoping of the Swedish Hockey League and said he intends to fulfill that contract before taking a shot at the NHL.
“I’ll go to training camp and see what happens,” Vrana said.
Touted for his creativity with the puck, Vrana said he considers himself more of a goal scorer than a playmaker, comparing himself to one of his favorite players, Marian Gaborik.
In 24 games with Linkoping in the Swedish League, Vrana recorded two goals and one assist. He had 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points in 24 games with Linkoping’s junior team last season.
The Caps had several other players on their draft list, including defensemen Julius Honka, who went to Dallas at No. 14. Honka played against Vrana in several international tournaments and described the 5-foot-11, 172-pound center as “very skilled” and “tough to defend against.”
Vrana, who was ranked as the fourth-best draft eligible player in Europe, said it was his relationship with one of the Capitals’ European scouts, Vojtech Kucera, that might have swayed their decision to take him at No. 13.
“I was just hoping someone would say my name,” he said. “When it happened I was so happy. I’m just excited to make the team.”
On the highlight screen following the Caps’ pick, Vrana was shown celebrating a goal by grabbing ice shavings and throwing them into the air.
“You never know when it’s going to be your last goal,” he said with a smile, “that’s why I celebrate.”
Vrana said he worked the power play for Linkoping and occasionally found himself killing penalties for the Czech Republic in international tournaments.
He said it was difficult leaving Prague and his parents, Jana and Karel, when he was 15 but is happy with his decision to go to Sweden.
“The choice was for hockey and I love hockey,” he said. “I could play every day and practice every day.”
Vrana has suited up for the Czech Republic at the past three Under-18 World Championships [2012-2014], leading his team in scoring in 2012 [4-4—8] and 2014 [8-2—10]. At the 2014 tournament, Vrana led all players with eight goals, finished tied for third in tournament scoring and tallied four points in the team’s final three games - including the overtime winner in the quarterfinal - as the club captured a silver medal.
Vrana has twice represented the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship, first in 2013 at 16 years of age, the youngest player in the tournament and again in 2014.
He said his parents’ visit to Philadelphia is their first to the U.S., adding it was his mother’s first time in a plane.
“She was nervous,” he said. “I tried to help her relax.”