jan-urbas-washington-capitals

Photo: RRBG Photography

In May, Fedor broke the news that Slovenian center Jan Urbas had agreed to a try-out agreement with the Washington Capitals. In July, the six-foot, three-inch, 218-pound forward made his debut in a Caps jersey at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in the team’s Development Camp.

Skating on the first line between Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana (the Capitals last two first-round selections), the 25-year-old got a good look at the team’s future, mentoring two of the Caps’ biggest offensive prospects in the system. The line dominated throughout the wee as Urbas showed off his offensive flair and puck-pressuring skill. For a better idea of how he plays, think Jeff Halpern in his prime, but with less goal scoring ability.

First recruited by Steve Richmond (the Capitals’ director of player development) in Germany, Urbas got on scouts’ radars with his play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Despite playing in the 7th highest league in the world (DEL), Urbas was solid in the Olympics, scoring a shorthanded goal and helping Slovenia make it to the quarterfinals for the first time ever.

I had the chance to talk to Urbas after Development Camp concluded. The center talked in great detail about his experience in the Olympics and the hero’s welcome he received when the Olympic team got home. He also shared his thoughts on Burakovsky and Vrana’s future–as well as an update on if the Caps had reached out to him with a deal.

What was it like playing with Andre Burakovsky this week?

Jan Urbas: It was great. He is very talented. He’s a really good skater. Good stick-handling. I think he’s going to have a great career.

What was your overall experience like at Development Camp this week? I know that it was Steve Richmond who invited you over to camp. What’s kind of the story behind you ending up here?

Jan Urbas: Well, I played with his son, Danny, in Munich, and I think he came for a visit and saw us play, and I guess he saw something in me. And then I think they were watching me on the Olympics. So yeah, after that, we made agreement, invited me for camp. I was happy to come here. This week was a great experience for me. Everything was new. I’ve never played on smaller ice. That was a little bit of a challenge in the beginning, but it was getting better and better. It was awesome.

What was the most memorable thing of the week for you, personally? It could be a movie, it could be something out on the ice…

Jan Urbas: We never had the power-skating, so I think I really got some good pointers from that and I really liked it.

Has the team talked to you about potentially coming to Rookie Camp in the fall? What is kind of your status moving forward now [with the Capitals]?

Jan Urbas: We’ve talked, but we’re going to talk later on. I think they’re going to discuss it a little more and then I will talk afterwards.

You’re a little but older than the other [prospects]. What was it like to be the oldest guy here?

Jan Urbas: Well, at first it was a little bit funny, but then it really doesn’t matter how old you are. You have to perform your best. You have to do your best. And everybody is really good. When the time was going on, I didn’t even think about it anymore. I just did what I have to do. Yeah, I just enjoyed it.

Now, you have something on most Caps players that they can’t even say [they've done]. You actually scored a goal in the Olympics. What is that experience like? Describe that for a common person like me? What was that like?

Jan Urbas: I don’t know. The whole Olympics, that was the best experience of my life. It’s playing against the best players in the world. Being in the same town, same city or the village, as they say. It was just great, and yeah, scoring the goal is even better, but the most important thing was that our team did well and made it to the Quarterfinals. Before the Olympics it was a little Mission Impossible, but then when we started playing, we saw that we could play with everybody. It was awesome. It was great.

What was kind of your wow moment there? Did you go to the Opening Ceremonies? Who was the most impressive player you shared the ice with?

Jan Urbas: Yeah, we were in the opening ceremonies, which was great. We saw some great things, nice things. I think the best thing was to play the opening game against Russia: Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk. Everybody.

urbas-opening-ceremonies

Urbas is in the second row, third from the left. (Photo: Bruce Bennett)

How did you guys do in that game? Was that the one Russia won 5…

Jan Urbas: Yeah, 5-2. We had been down I think 3-nothing or 2-nothing and then we came back. But then they had two goals and I think it was an empty-netter. Was kind of a close game in the end but still, you can see that everybody has so much experience. It was a good opening game for us.

Do you think that experience really helped your play go to the next level? I know a lot of people know who you were, just from that short-handed goal that you scored. What was it like just to play with your country and have an opportunity like that?

Jan Urbas: I played on some World Championship games before, so all the guys who know each other are a really good group of guys – even in the World Championship. It’s awesome, but in the Olympics it’s a step up. It was a great opportunity for us. Everybody is going to higher leagues now, and the people who are watching more hockey than everything else. It’s good for kids to see their country do well so hopefully they will get into hockey more and more. Because hockey is not a prime sport back home.

When you guys came home, you had a huge reception, right?

Jan Urbas: Yeah, it was around 500 people in the airport, but we came late. We came like 3 in the morning, so it was huge.

One thing I noticed even today was that you’re just an incredible forechecker and backchecker. Where did you pick that up? I know a lot of the younger guys, that’s the part of the game that comes last. Are you more of a defensive player? How would you describe yourself?

Jan Urbas: I don’t know. It actually depends on the team that I play with. Like in Sweden I was more of a third-line player, playing short–

Playing short-handed?

Jan Urbas: Yeah, playing short-handed. I worked hard. Now in Germany (in the DEL) I was playing more short-handed too, but on the national team and the last World Championship, I played second line, short-handed too. So I play short-handed most of the time, but I play on the power play, too. I don’t know, I think I always work hard. Like I always try to do my best. Try to skate hard and win some pucks, maybe create some space for my teammates. Sometimes I can score some goals too. I guess it depends from game to game and from team to team.

I know you don’t know your situation yet, but this whole week in Washington, did you like it here? Was this the first time that you visited?

Jan Urbas: I was in the US when I was younger, but so I don’t remember too much, but this was like my first time in the US or North America. It was great, I like it. I like everything about it, and the organization was really, really good. It was a great experience for me.

I took many years of Spanish, but I couldn’t go into like Mexico or Spain and speak as well as you speak English. How are so good at speaking [English]?

Jan Urbas: I don’t know! I played in Sweden for seven years, so at first when I came from home I was 17 years old and my English was not so good. First I learned English, then I learned Swedish. Last year I played in Germany so there were a lot more American players. Just hanging out with them you pick up some new words and I guess [I learned] just speaking. I think that’s the best exercise.

Finally, Jakub Vrana, the Caps’ first round pick. He was really impressive all week. What was it like to play on the same line with him and share the ice with him? Do you see big things from him in the future?

Jan Urbas: Oh yeah. He’s a really good skater. He’s really fast. He has a great shot. It was great to play with both [he and Burakovsky] and they’re both having a good opportunity in the future.

jan-urbas-sochi

Photo: Jan Urbas

  • Sarah

    Random list of reasons Slovenia is awesome:
    1. The country is one of the most beautiful in the world. I mean, ye gods, there must be a dirty alleyway or a broken window somewhere in it, it’s on planet Earth, but it’s like the Sophia Loren of countries, it just can’t take a bad picture.
    2. The national anthem is one of the most beautiful in the world, both the melody and the lyrics. Seriously, check it out if you’ve never heard it. That a country that’s been occupied and harassed as much as they have can express sentiments that noble towards humanity just blows my mind.
    3. Anze Kopitar
    4. The whole making it to the quarterfinals of the Olympics with 900 registered professional hockey players in the country, and a single digit number of rinks, on sheer determination and team work. Totally stole my heart, I’m sure it stole everybody else’s here too.
    5. The language has like fifty dialects in a country two thirds the size of Maryland, and everybody communicates. And speaks multiple other languages, like Urbas here. Major respect.
    Feel free to add to the list everybody, that’s just to get things started… :)

  • Tadd

    “The line dominated throughout the wee as Urbas showed off his”

    Think you missed a “k” there, pal :)

  • Bilal

    I just listened to the Anthem. and damn, that’s beautiful.

  • Pat Magee

    He could play a season on the bears. Hershey is already stacked on D, so just think how the Urbas/Burakovsky line will do in the AHL!!! Euro-players FOR THE WIN!

  • Graham Dumas
  • Spike

    I didn’t get to go and see him play but is he a possible candidate for our second line center?

  • Sarah

    To quote one Peter Hassett: “Dammit, Graham” ;)
    OK, fine then, with no disrespect to Georgia or anywhere else I will CONTINUE with reasons Slovenia is awesome, until either Graham shuts up or my fingers fall off, whichever happens first. Let’s try a left brain approach.
    1. In just twenty odd years since independence, Slovenia has managed to become one of the most stable and prosperous new democracies in Europe. They long since went from borrower to donor status at the World Bank.
    2. They joined the EU in 2004, an incredible achievement considering how many regulatory requirements the EU has for government and trade.
    3. They joined the Eurozone in 2007 and have about half America’s debt to GDP ratio, depending on how you reckon government debt.
    4. They have the highest per capita income in central and southern Europe, again, just 23 years since becoming independent.
    5. Literacy is near 100%, with, as I mentioned, many people speaking multiple languages (Kopitar speaks five)
    6. Slovenes’ life expectancy is roughly that of Americans, and their maternal and infant mortality statistics are better than ours. They spend only 9% of their GDP on healthcare, we spend about 1/6 of ours.
    These people are serious about being peaceful and productive. As moving as their success in the hockey tournament was, it was even more so in the context of the adversities the whole country has overcome. Both on and off the ice, the Slovenes have put everybody on notice that they’ve arrived. Good for them!

  • Graham Dumas
  • Sarah

    That does look tasty. I got nothing.

  • Graham Dumas

    Yeah, the thing with the egg on it is a flaky bread-bowl of salty sheep cheese that’s baked until molten. Then they pull it out, crack the egg on top, stir, and serve. It’s fantastic. The dumplings are minced lamb/pork and cilantro, usually, and explode like soup dumplings on first bite.

    But I have no idea what Slovenian food is like, nor is this a zero-sum game.

  • Sarah

    No knowledge of Slovenian food to declare here, either. And anyway, my brain shut down because it was lunch time, and I was starving.