Proving people wrong is something Frank Vatrano is accustomed to at this point. An undrafted player who quickly proved his critics wrong en route to a NHL roster spot, Vatrano has been a lightning rod of discussion in his first few seasons in Boston. The hometown kid has both electrified fans with his AHL scoring prowess, as well as his scoring potential at the NHL level, while also frustrating fans with his play away from the puck and in the defensive zone. The skill has arguably been there all along, but at times many have questioned his commitment to playing a 200 ft game. Last year was a particularly turbulent time for him, as he suffered torn ligaments in his left foot prior to the season starting, and was vocally critical of former Bruins head Coach Claude Julien prior to his eventual dismissal. The comments earned him a public admonishment from Bruins President Cam Neely during a scheduled appearance on 98.5s Felger & Mazz radio show.
Fast forward to training camp this year, and the writing may be on the wall. Whether it is the surplus of younger forward prospects chomping at the bit for a NHL roster spot, or Sweeney’s comments on Vatrano, where he notably lumped Vatrano in with AHL/NHL tweener Agostino & others, it’s clear Vatrano needs to prove his worth.
Vatrano has always had something of a noticeable chip on his shoulder, making it to the NHL roster & seizing his opportunity as an undrafted kid from East Longmeadow, MA. That hasn’t changed going into his 3rd season, most notably when pressed about his overall NHL game. When asked about his role on the team, he acknowledged there is real competition this year and admitted his spot isn’t a guaranteed thing. When asked about proving his 200 foot game, he replied “You can’t just be a player that’s good at just one thing”. In my eyes, Vatrano comes across as a player who has heard the criticism from fans, media & most importantly, his coaches. He knows even under a new, offensively minded coach like Bruce Cassidy, players are expected to contribute in each zone. He has the requisite speed and skill to be a more effective all around player but admitted that the defensive side of the game hasn’t always come as easily to him as it may to other players.
When asked about playing under a new head coach for the first time in training camp he noted the main difference between Julien and Cassidy is “Obviously, last year, I was hurt last year. I was kinda, not shell shocked but shocked a little bit, obviously my first NHL camp, you don’t really know what to expect but I thought I adapted right away. Butchy just pushes pace, pace, pace. We want to be in people’s faces and play fast so I think that’s the biggest thing I noticed today.” Cassidy’s stylistic departure from his predecessor may be just what Vatrano needs to really cement himself in the NHL, with Cassidy having more of a reputation for allowing players to learn from mistakes instead of punishing them.
“I say it all the time, it’s just the mindset going in to it, you have to know the job, you have a task and you obviously know the things you do well but when your in the NHL you have to do everything good, you can’t just be a player that’s good at just one thing and for me that’s what I’ve worked on ever since I could in the NHL. I want to be better, more defensively aware, I want to be more consistent night in and night out, whether its offensively or defensively, whatever I can do to help my team win, that’s what I want to do.”
Even if Vatrano makes the roster, there is uncertainty about where he will slot in, as he can play both wings and with Backes taking away a wing spot this season. Cassidy acknowledged Frank being someone who wants to play up in the lineup, and there are wide open spots on the wings for both Bergeron and Krecji’s lines. Vatrano, asked if he preferred playing with anyone in particular talked about the depth up and down the Bruins lineup:
“There’s not one guy, I’ve played a bunch with David Krejci, Backes. I've played with Spoons a lot, there’s some guys in the lineup that I’m used to playing with so wherever I slide in I’ll be more than happy with playing with anyone on this team”
No matter where he ends up, the onus is on him to prove he can be an all around, full time NHL player and distinguish himself from as talented a Bruins prospect group the team has seen in some years. Cassidy, when pressed on whether Frank has a slot in the NHL to defend, or if he’s a part of the group trying to earn an NHL slot, stated he didn’t want to call him “an automatic”. It’s clear the organization thinks he has the talent, it’s just up to Vatrano to prove himself worthy of a fulltime roster spot. My favorite quote from him today? When asked if he liked working with play makers to take advantage of his elite shot, he replied:
“Yea, obviously that’s what I want to do, score goals, but there’s more than scoring goals, I also want to be a guy who can make plays and use my speed to create opportunities for my line mates”
The chance to prove his critics wrong is once again right in front of him, let’s see how far that sizeable chip on his shoulder can carry Eastmeadow’s most famous hockey player.