Frank Vatrano’s season may not have gone the way he expected it to, but it had a sweeter ending that he couldn’t have imagined with the Florida Panthers.
Vatrano began the season with the Boston Bruins, looking to build off a pedestrian first-two seasons under Claude Julien and the Bruins. Vatrano was seen as a prophet in the Bruins organization, as the undrafted local boy from the University of Massachusetts scored 36 goals in 36 AHL games and was primed to make headlines for his boyhood team.
Sadly, the winger recorded just 29 points in 83 games, but had a promising defensive upside, with just -6 in the combined two seasons. This year however, Vatrano missed a lot of ice time, and failed to capitalize on his limited minutes.
During his time off the ice, the Bruins gave way to more of their prospects playing for the AHL’s Providence Bruins. Players like Matt Beleskey, Danton Heinen, and Anders Bjork all impressed under new head coach John Cassidy. To go along with them, rookie phenom Jake Debrusk stared for Boston this season, putting up 51 points in just 70 games, earning himself a spot on the Bruins’ second line.
This year, Frank fell victim to the injury bug, and played in just 25 of 58 Bruins games on the year, dealing with a wrist injury for long portions of the 2017-18 campaign. Vatrano was unable to take advantage of the role he’d won, as he was demoted to the fourth line.
Even when he wasn’t, he was used as Boston’s healthy scratch throughout the season. Nearing the deadline, Boston acquired Rick Nash on February 25th from the New York Rangers, which had officially signaled the end of Vatrano’s time with the club. On February 22nd, Boston shipped him off to the Florida Panthers in exchange for their third-round pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft:
There was great doubt about the depth of the Panthers, especially during the first half of the season. The signing of Radim Vrbata flopped, Jared McCann and Denis Malgin struggled for consistency, and relying on Jamie McGinn for second-line scoring wasn’t going to cut it for a Panthers team trying to make the playoffs.
Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon was ecstatic with the move, acquiring yet another promising forward from a division rival. Here’s what Tallon had to say about the young Frank Vatrano:
"“Frank is a talented, versatile forward who can score goals, contribute offensively and add to the depth of our forward group… He’s a young player who is still improving and has the ability to support our core group right now and for many years to come.”"
Vatrano actually was traded while dealing with a lower-body injury he suffered against the
earlier in the month, so he failed to make his Panthers debut until March 10th’s home clash against the Rangers. He was stellar in this game, staying persistent and hungry every time he touched the ice, creating 5 shots for himself, setting up 2 of 5 shots for
, and even bagging a goal for himself:
The goal wasn’t too short of spectacular, despite it not being a howitzer or a dangle to burn a defenseman or a goalie. Vatrano creates everything on this play, as Mark Pysyk gives it to Vatrano right after Rob O’Gara has cleared the zone, and immediately he moves in. The Rangers are unable to get a much-needed shift and are instantly caught on the back foot of a Panthers’ counter.
Frankie sees that two Rangers’ attentions were onto him, so Vatrano finds Vincent Trocheck in the slot, who sets up Huberdeau. Johnny had the space, but couldn’t quite find the angle to go opposite post on Henrik Lundqvist, who’d been drawn out of his crease.
While every eye from the Rangers’ players goes to the puck, Vatrano sets himself up perfectly between two defensemen. Trocheck’s pass was pinpoint, and Vatrano rolled it in. Panthers’ color commentator Denis Potvin was beyond pleased with the winger’s ability to find these spots, even saying this:
"“I could show you three, four examples already in this game where [Vatrano] has found an opening when he doesn’t have the puck. He has put himself in position for a pass time and time again.”"
The courage and effort to work his socks off night after night is a perfect attitude for a player on a young hockey club. In his second game as a Panther, he started with the third line following Denis Malgin’s return. Malgin was seriously rusty on the night, and Vatrano was pushed back onto the second line. It was this game against the Ottawa Senators that really moved him onto the second line:
On this play, it’s Vatrano getting into the slot and creating shooting lanes, as this time it’s for Mike Matheson. A simple cut to the goal brings Erik Karlsson – who certainly isn’t easy to get around – to the crease, rather than where he needs to be, around the face-off dot.
This is where Matheson is able to flow into an area where he’s had a lot of success in. Matheson buries the shot to tie the game, and even though he doesn’t even touch the puck on this move, it’s Frank Vatrano who is able to create the play.
The effort has always been there for the youngster, and he never gives up on a shooting opportunity. Vatrano averaged 1.9 shots per game as a Panther, slipping just over his career-average of 1.8. His 116 shots in 2016-17 was his career-high, only playing 44 games in that season. He also loves playing against Boston, tallying 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) in three games played against his hometown team.
Vatrano has the intangibles and determination to be a consistent forward in the Panthers’ lineup. He’ll bring his effort to whatever line he plays on and can adjust on the fly to any kind of situation. Vatrano draws a lot of comparisons to former Panthers winger Reilly Smith, as he’s quick, keen, has an eye for goal, and was traded from Boston.
While only an RFA this offseason, it should be important to the Panthers to keep Vatrano around in the organization for years to come.