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 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–
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.
Photo: Jan Urbas