BOSTON, Mass – Frank Vatrano might have been the 14th and final forward to crack the NHL roster for the Bruins coming out of training camp after a so-so performance during the preseason. The 23-year-old is coming off a season where he posted 10 goals and 18 points in 44 games after coming back from a foot injury suffered right before training camp, and the hope was that Vatrano would be ready to make a giant leap this season.
Instead Vatrano watched his game stall during training camp while getting reps on the third line, and virtually no power play time with the Bruins killing off a slew of the new enforcement penalties during the preseason games. The former UMass standout never got his offensive game going during the preseason, and quite honestly there isn’t much that stands out as an honest-to-goodness NHL tool if Vatrano isn’t working the lightning quick shot and release.
So the reports on Vatrano were mixed at the end of the preseason, and he likely would have been a healthy scratch if the Bruins were healthy up front.
“We continue to look for it, so it’s certainly not where we want it to be,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if Vatrano has improved his ability to bring his all-around ‘B’ game when the shots aren’t falling. “Frank is really good in a straight line and his stick is getting better on the fore-check. He’s getting to some loose pucks and he’s reloading better. What we need to build off that is when you’re getting to those loose pucks and turning them over, stay on the battle and let’s make something happen from them.
“That’s an area where [Anders] Bjork has been good as a young kid, and Jake [DeBrusk] has been able to turn over some pucks. We want to build that into his game more where he values that part of the game where he can really make a difference because he can skate, and he’s a big enough guy that he can bump people around. That’s where we want to see improvement.”
Instead both Patrice Bergeron and David Backes are question marks for Thursday night’s opener against the Nashville Predators, and Vatrano might find himself in the opening night lineup on the third line with Sean Kuraly and Matt Beleskey. Either way Vatrano is just happy to still be up in Boston after a tough competition for a roster spot, and hopes to be able to show his offensive skills before it’s all said and done.
“I’m happy to do whatever the team needs me to do and give it my best every time I’m out there,” said Vatrano. “I know during training camp a lot of players are getting looks in a lot of different spots, and that can be tough. Maybe that means you don’t always get put in the positions where you can show everything you can do.
“You just need to be patient until you do get in those spots where you can succeed, and then make the most of it when you’re in there. I know I can finish plays with my shot on the power play when I get those chances, so it’s just a matter of just keep working hard and waiting for your time.”
The 18 goals and 29 points in 83 career NHL games speak to a player in Vatrano that’s shown some flashes at the NHL level, but one that’s also at a bit of a crossroads after parts of two seasons with the Black and Gold. This needs to be the season where Vatrano learns to lean in a bit more with assertive, aggressive play all over the ice, but does that while also putting together the kind of season that realizes his high-end offensive potential.