With the 28th pick in the SB Nation NHL Mock Draft (see all other selections here), Raw Charge selects for the Tampa Bay Lightning winger Jakub Vrana of Linkoping in the SHL.
Vrana, a 6'0, 180 pound forward that plays either wing (and some center, depending on the publication you're reading) is a classic late first-round forward pick: a high skill, high-scoring European forward whose had his work ethic, commitment, and defensive acumen questioned, causing an otherwise outstanding offensive prospect to tumble down most rankings. He was ranked the 4th best European skater in the final CSS rankings following a good showing at the World U-18s for the Czech Republic.
Vrana has been playing in Sweden for the past two years, splitting time between their primary development league (SuperElit), where he was a point-per-game player, and the top professional league, the SHL where he struggled a bit as an 18-year old playing against grown men.
Here are his career point totals via Elite Prospects:
Any player picked this late in the first is going to have some weaknesses, so with Haydn Fleury already in our back pocket, Vrana makes sense as a potential home-run. All of the drawbacks or flaws in his game, as described by scouts, are correctable or coachable things.
The most common complaints are a lack of consistency, commitment in the defensive zone, and overall attitude and demeanor. These are holes in his game that can be filled with the type of rigorous development he would get in Tampa Bay's well-structured farm system. No one questions his speed, skating, or offensive abilities, things that are next to impossible to teach or learn later in your hockey career, which makes this selection much easier to swallow.
Consider these negative scouting reports on a player drafted by Steve Yzerman who currently plays for the Lightning:
"...we still feel he's soft and a horrific diver." -- Red Line Report
"...in August and November you could hardly notice him." -- Goren Stubbs, Director of European Scouting for the NHL
"...Quick shot, excellent stickhandler. Insanely creative, but inconsistent." -- The Hockey News
Any guesses who that player was?
Answer? Nikita Kucherov, who went on a scoring tear in the QMJHL after being drafted by the Lightning in the 2nd round, 58th overall in 2011. He then was a point-per-game player in the AHL before being called up to the NHL this past year and finished the year with the Bolts, scoring 18 points in 52 games. He looks to be an important piece in an exciting top-6 group for the Lightning moving forward.
(The above quotes from this page, via the excellent Bolt Prospects.)
All that because Yzerman was willing to take a risk on a high-skill guy with some issues with consistency, defensive zone play, and even off-ice stuff (attitude, work ethic, or, in Kucherov's case, "The Russian Factor").
Basically, at 28th overall, everyone has some warts, and we like Vrana's warts the best, as they're likely to be the easiest to overcome. He's got the offensive upside to be a very effective scoring line winger, and that's good value this late in the first round.
Once ranked fairly high, Vrana has experienced some bouts of inconsistency in his game and has yet to really develop the defensive awareness that scouts were hoping for. That aside, Vrana is an imaginative passer with above-average puck skills and his knack for cashing in on loose pucks in the scoring area doesn't go unnoticed. His arsenal features a quick accurate release that can fool opposing goaltenders and his ability to find the scoring areas cannot be taught.
Vrana has battled some inconsistency in his young career, but he is a solid skater who has very good offensive instincts, positional awareness in the offensive zone, is a solid passer, and has a knack for finding space. He's not yet known for playing much of a defensive game, but he does have some great offensive assets.
Vrana is a strong skater with a good first step and lateral quickness. He handles the puck with confident and creative hands. A good wrist shot with a deceptive release help him offensively, as does his natural vision and passing ability.
Vrana was dominant at the U-18's with the Czech Republic. He led the tournament in goals with 8 in 7 games. With 14 goals in 16 games for the Czech's at the U-18 level, his goal scoring prowess is not really in question. He has a great, quick shot with deceptive speed. His is also a solid skater. He struggled for stretches in the SHL this year, but it isn't uncommon for a young player to battle with consistency as they break into a men's league. He has the offensive instincts to become a dangerous goal scoring forward. He still needs to work on his defensive game and his vision is sometimes very disappointing, but his offensive instincts are solid.