“I mean, first of all, if you just look at my face, I mean I look like [a kid] a little, ”said the baby-faced Vrana with a lighthearted giggle. “You can’t do anything about that.”

His escapades with teammates in the days after winning the 2018 Stanley Cup are lasting examples of this “young” person – the photos and videos from those nights still pop up frequently on social media. His constant personal memory is the Stanley Cup tattoo he wore on his left wrist while holding the hand of former goalkeeper Braden Holtby.

“I woke up and didn’t even know I had it,” Vrana said recently. “I looked at my arm the next morning and it was there.”

One month after his 25th birthday, Vrana is no longer a kid in the hockey world. The Capitals’ 2014 first-round draft pick is in its fourth full NHL season and is becoming an important part of the organization.

“Jake Vrana is part of it [leadership] Group, ”said Capital’s coach Peter Laviolette. “He’s no longer a child. … His hand is on the rope. “

Vrana has three goals and three assists in six games this season and finds the results sheet in all but one game. He has a lot to prove as his two-year bridge deal for $ 6.7 million will expire at the end of the season if he becomes a restricted free agent.

“It’s been four or five years for me now [with the organization]and I mean, my role, I want to be a leader, ”Vrana said. “I want to move up in the big moments.”

Vrana’s tattoo, which shows the Stanley Cup with two sticks and three stars, is a reminder of how far he’s come. But it’s also a reminder of how far to go. He has had career highs on goals in the last two seasons but has not scored any points in the 2019 and 2020 playoffs.

When asked earlier this season to talk about his postseason performance or the enjoyable 2018 Cup run, he reminded him that he is focused on what lies ahead.

“Whatever happened has already happened,” said Vrana. “I talked about that, about the mindset. You can’t change it anymore. You are not directed backwards. You are on the way forward. You go to your future. “

A prime example of the importance of an appropriate attitude towards Vrana was in early November 2019, when he and the great Peter Bondra of Capitals sat side by side at an autograph session and scored over goals.

The night before against Buffalo, Vrana had scored twice, and fans were talking about how he almost got a hat trick. As Bondra remembered, he could sense Vrana’s anger and began to anger him to lighten the mood.

There was talk of how Bondra scored 503 goals in his career, which was “pretty good,” Vrana noted, and how Bondra scored 19 hat-tricks during his 16-year NHL career. When Vrana realized he hadn’t done one yet, Bondra asked why.

“What’s stopping you from scoring a hat trick?” Bondra Vrana asked. “You will have three to four chances to score. Just do it.”

“You just have to imagine it and it will happen,” Vrana recalls of Bondra.

On his way home from the autograph session, Vrana began imagining his first hat trick. 24 hours later, he scored three goals in a 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames.

“He doesn’t know what he’s capable of,” said Bondra.

Vrana still works on his craft every day, mainly focusing on improving his strength and stamina on and off the ice. To play at your best, you also need to have a clear head. In the off-season he went home to the Czech Republic to be with the family for the first time in several years.

“Just be at home [was good]”Said Vrana.” We were just around each other and that is the most important thing, the people around you. “

The people around Vrana during the season are just as important. He may not always be the # 1 player on the ice or in the locker room, but his role, place on the team, and continued growth are all under his control.

“Of course I’ve grown. I’ve been through a few things, but I’m not going to change. … you can’t change your personality, ”said Vrana. “You will still be a positive kid who loves to play hockey and bring people what they want. And year after year you keep developing. “