BUFFALO – They spent just a couple of weeks together playing together at the IIHF World Championships in Russia last month, but that’s all the time that was needed for consensus No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews to come away impressed with Bruins sharpshooter Frank Vatrano.
The 18-year-old Matthews and the 22-year-old Vatrano played on the same forward line together intermittently for Team USA through the international tournament, and even teamed up on a couple of goals while helping lead a young, undermanned group of Americans to a fourth overall finish in the international tourney.
It was clearly a proper introduction to the NHL-level of professional hockey for Matthews after he played out this past year in Switzerland, and served as a nice showcase for Vatrano to show off his skills shooting the puck as one of the few dangerous offensive players on a largely youthful roster.
“He’s a great player. He’s got a really good shot,” said an impressed Matthews, who is expected to hear the Maple Leafs call his name three weeks from now at the NHL Draft. “He was a great person too, and a really great teammate. I enjoyed playing with him. He sees the ice pretty well and can skate really fast too. I thought we matched up really well together.
“The World Championships were huge…going up against Canada, Russia, Finland. It was stacked up with a lot of really high quality NHL players, so [it’s good] when you can go up against those guys and really compete. I thought I held my own pretty well, so it definitely gave me a lot of confidence.”
Vatrano finished with three goals and eight points in 10 games, and Matthews led Team USA with six goals and nine points in the 10 games before dropping the Bronze Medal game to Team Russia.
Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter @HacksWithHaggs.