Frank Vatrano had one of his best nights as a member of the Florida Panthers on Tuesday — and on Wednesday, the forward was part of a trade to the New York Rangers.
Vatrano, 28, was mobbed by his Florida teammates Tuesday night in San Jose after he scored the game-winning overtime goal in a 3-2 win over the Sharks.
In the third period, he tied the game up with his first goal since New Year’s Day.
Vatrano will be a free agent this summer with an annual cap hit of $2.53 million. He was in the final year of a three-year extension he signed with the Panthers in 2019.
Florida, a team expected to be a heavy hitter come Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline, needed to clear up some cap room before any deals could be made — Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux could be headed south to the Panthers — and Wednesday’s trade did that.
In exchange for Vatrano, the Panthers get back a fourth-round selection in the 2022 Draft.
Later Wednesday night, Florida traded that fourth-round pick back to the Montreal Canadiens as part of a deal for defenseman Ben Chiarot. The Panthers also gave up their 2023 first-round selection as well as prospect Ty Smilanic.
“We didn’t want to part with Frankie Vatrano,” GM Bill Zito told Florida Hockey Now on Wednesday night.
“He is a class act, a class individual and a huge part of our room. We wish him nothing but the best. It was very difficult to part ways with Frankie. Sometimes you have to do difficult things and that was difficult.”
Vatrano appeared to be back in the good graces of the Panthers after missing a bunch of games.
He had become a stalwart on Florida’s fourth line over the past few weeks with Noel Acciari and Patric Hornqvist.
Vatrano had been scratched in nine of 12 games before rejoining the lineup against Columbus on Feb. 24.
”It has been a tough situation but the boys have been playing good,” Vatrano told Florida Hockey Now last month.
“I am just trying to stay game ready and make sure I am getting extra workouts in. The coaches have been doing a good job with conditioning after practices. They kept me in game shape and game ready. I knew I would get the call eventually and I just want to help the team in any way they needed.”
On Tuesday night, in what turned out to be his final game with the Panthers, Vatrano went out in style.
Florida was trailing 2-1 in the third when Vatrano hammered a pass from Acciari past James Reimer to tie the score. He later scored 1:11 into overtime to give his team the win.
The Panthers are currently in Las Vegas and are scheduled to practice later this afternoon.
Two years ago, Vincent Trocheck was traded from the Panthers to Carolina while the team was packing up to leave Vegas.
“It felt great,’’ Vatrano said after Tuesday’s game. “I had to stick with it. With all the penalties and stuff, certain guys are going to get icetime. Our team, the whole lineup, did a great job of sticking with the gameplan, moving our feet and playing hard.
“It is always great to score goals, but whether you are in or out of the lineup, the main thing is the team is winning. You have to put the individual success behind and worry about the team. When I wasn’t playing, we were winning and thankfully, we have been winning with me in the lineup. We have a great team, a deep team.”