Florida Panthers gave Frank Vatrano a chance and it has paid off
When the news broke that the Florida Panthers traded for Frank Vatrano in 2018, it did not exactly break the internet.
The Panthers, at the time, were seven points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final spot in the playoffs.
The acquisition of Frank Vatrano (in exchange for a third-round draft pick) was looked upon as a minor move, one that wouldn’t break the Boston Bruins nor make the Florida Panthers.
Turns out, it was a small move which has worked out in a big way for the Florida Panthers — and for Vatrano.
Coming to the Panthers offered Frank Vatrano a real opportunity to play, something he was not getting with his hometown Bruins.
In his final season with Boston, Vatrano did not get into the Bruins lineup a whole lot either because of injury or because he was one of the odd forwards out.
Over the course of Vatrano’s final three months with the Bruins, he played in just seven games and was held off the scoresheet in all of them.
Frank Vatrano missed his first few games with the Florida Panthers because of injury, but after scoring in his debut March 10 against the Rangers, he ended with five goals and eight points in 16 games.
Vatrano scored goals in two of Florida’s final three games that season — both coming against the Bruins.
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“The biggest thing in coming here from Boston was that I didn’t have any confidence” he said. “In hockey, the thing you need the most, no matter how skilled you are, if you don’t have confidence your game is going to go right down.
“Dale and the coaching staff that was here gave me a great opportunity to get a top-six spot and compete for it. I took the opportunity and just ran with it.
“Since coming to Florida, I have had nothing but confidence. Dale has been great to me. He took me out of a bad situation in Boston and brought me here to a better one. It has been a great transition.”
Last season was Vatrano’s breakout moment as he became a regular with the Panthers and cashed in with 24 goals and 39 points in 81 games.
Just before the trade deadline, the Florida Panthers rewarded Frank Vatrano (who was set to be a restricted free agent) with a three-year contract extension.
“He is finally healthy and can show what he has got,’’ general manager Dale Tallon said of Vatrano last year.
“He came to camp in great shape. He can play up-and-down our lineup, we can put him on any line and he will produce. It’s a very fair contract. I’m excited about his future. …
“It is a great deal for both of us and he earned it. He came here and worked his rear end off for us, just works, is the kind of player we want with the Panthers. He goes hard and gives it everything he has every night. We want more guys like him.”
As the Panthers gear up for a Stanley Cup qualifying series against the New York Islanders, Vatrano is poised to be right in the thick of Florida’s plans playing on the left side of Sasha Barkov on the top line.
Vatrano scored 16 goals with 34 points this past season and says the opportunity to try and help Florida’s top line is something he is excited about.
Lines for Florida Panthers appear set a week into training camp
“Those are a couple of guys I am used to playing with, got with them a bunch last year and obviously here at the end of the season,” Vatrano said after Florida’s practice in Coral Springs on Monday.
“I just have a to keep things simple, try and get them the puck as much as possible, drive the net and be good on the forecheck, be hard to play against. My job on that line is to try and create space for them.”
Last season, Vatrano and the Panthers quickly hammered out a contract extension as he said he and his agent sat down and made the decision that Florida was “the best spot for me.”
Not only did the Panthers and then-coach Bob Boughner give Vatrano playing time, but they gave him quality playing time as he became a fixture within Florida’s top six.
“I love it here,” Vatrano said then, “I don’t want anything to change.”
Although he got off to a bit of a slow start this season coming off last year’s 24-goal campaign, Vatrano stuck with things and ended up finishing strong.
The highlight of Vatrano’s season came Jan. 21 in Chicago as he recorded his second NHL hat trick in Joel Quenneville’s triumphant return to the United Center.
In the final couple of games, coach Joel Quenneville put him with Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov, sliding Jonathan Huberdeau to a new-look second line with Erik Haula and Mike Hoffman.
Quenneville said he likes the balance Florida’s four lines currently give and that Vatrano adds a little “dangerousness” coming off the rush playing with Barkov and Dadonov.
“He gives us some physicality, blocks shots and is willing to do things to set up the shot as well,” Quenneville said.
“I thought our lines with Huby being on a different line, we have more lines which can score and more lines where we are comfortable defensively. We thought Frankie being up there gave us some of our best games (before the March 12) break.”
Vatrano is an example that hard work pays off.
Although he went undrafted, Vatrano excelled as a sophomore at UMass with 28 goals in 36 games and signed a free agent deal with the Bruins.
The native of Springfield, Mass., then scored 36 goals in 36 games with the AHL Providence Bruins as he split time with the big club in Boston.
“Everything he has gotten is deserved,’’ Barkov said. “He is a hard working kid on and off the ice and has an elite shot. When he gets the chance to shot, watch out.
“We just need to find him and he gets to the open ice very well. He is big and strong. He does everything, plays defense and blocks shots. That tells a lot about his character. He is a very important player for us.”
TRAINING CAMP REPORT, DAY 7
The Panthers were back on the ice Monday after taking Sunday off and once again had everyone participate.
Quenneville said even though the Panthers are less than a week away from flying to Toronto to begin Phase 4, he is still “keeping it simple” when it comes to practices.
“We are trying to re-establish our team game, the structure and take away the hesitation in our game,” Quenneville said.
“We are giving some reminders to what we may expect to see from the Islanders, but this is kind of refreshing everyone and getting a higher tempo every day. … We are trying to run some drills which get us up to speed. Pace has been good and we have been real pleased with that.”
— Quenneville said both the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will be allowed to dress to an extra forward and an extra defenseman for their exhibition game in Toronto on July 29.
“We are going to try and get more guys involved in that game to try and get them ready because you know how deep it can be in a playoff round or going into the playoffs where you’ll need everyone,” Quenneville said.
— Veteran defenseman Keith Yandle says he doesn’t think the Panthers are going to have any problems when it comes to sticking to the rules once they get to Toronto.
“It is not an issue at all,’’ Yandle said. “We have touched on it but it kind of goes without saying. We’re there for a reason and it’s to play hockey. We have a group of guys who know we have to win games, so that is the least of our worries going into this.”
— Vatrano on going to the Royal York Hotel in Toronto for Phase 4: “I think most of the talk in the locker room right now is what kind of WiFi we’re going to have at the hotel.
“Guys are definitely bringing their Xboxes and their Playstations and their computers. We’re going to try and stay in the hotel as much as possible. We know what is at stake and we want to keep ourselves in the bubble as much as possible.”