This just in: Frankie Vatrano = legit

Frank Vatrano's UMass Minutemen sweater from 2013-14 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Frank Vatrano’s UMass Minutemen sweater from 2013-14 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

The torrid start for the one-time UMass Minuteman who signed with Boston as an undrafted free agent last spring is no fluke: Frankie Vatrano can flat-out play hockey.

Although his team fell to the Hartford Wolf Pack in OT (linemate Austin Czarnik took a hooking penalty that HFD forward Adam Tambellini cashed in on), Vatrano had another standout performance.

The AHL’s Player of the Week after five goals (including a four-goal outburst on Sunday vs Portland) in his first two games of the season continued his blistering pace by netting his sixth goal in three contests late in the second period when he drove to the net and put himself in the perfect spot to corral a point shot deflection off a player in front of the net. The puck was on his stick for a split second before he rifled it past Hartford goalie Magnus Hellberg (as an aside- I once had breakfast with young Magnus the morning he was drafted by the Nashville Predators- nice kid).

Back to Vatrano…

We all knew he could shoot the puck. He was the 88th-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting for the 2012 NHL draft, but went unchosen in Pittsburgh (and Newark and Philly after that). For those scoring at home, that’s a solid 4th-round draft grade, but teams were likely scared off by how much extra weight the kid was carrying around. Even when lighting it up for the Boston Jr. Bruins and U.S. NTDP (he didn’t score a ton, but his goals were often memorable snipes), you could see he had that stocky build and scouts behind the scenes talked about him being fat.

Well, it took him a while to get to where he is, but an aborted stop at Boston College, followed by 1 game in the 2013-14 season at Mass and then his 18-goal freshman year which promoted his hometown Bruins to come calling, he worked hard in the offseason to lose weight. The end result? He came to camp ready to go and was arguably the B’s top player at the rookie tournament in Buffalo. He followed that up with a strong main camp and exhibition season performance.

Tonight’s performance wasn’t just about the goal, though. In the third period, with Providence on the power play, Ben Youds pinched in from the point and lost the race to the puck lying just inside the right circle. As a result Hartford broke it out on a 2-on-1 that was developing into a disaster until there was a flash of black and gold streaking up the ice- No. 49- Vatrano!  The Wolf Pack managed to get a shot off, but the back check was impressive- not only for the speed Vatrano showed to catch up to the play, but for the sheer effort and hustle he showed.

Vatrano is serious about playing for his Bruins. They’re the team he grew up dreaming of playing for and he’s putting action to his words. In a second period interview, he talked about how the decision to leave school was a “no brainer” for him when Boston showed interest, and I had heard from at least one other NHL source that they were disappointed in not getting a chance to talk to him, as they would have made a push had they known he would come out after just one year in the NCAA.

Amherst’s loss was the B’s gain. I don’t know how close Vatrano is to getting called up. In fact, if I had to be completely honest, I’d say that fans should resist the shiny new toy syndrome and accept that by getting top line minutes and special teams time in Providence, it probably benefits him in  the long run over rushing him to Boston. As the wise Mark Divver remarked on Twitter tonight- “let’s see where he (and Czarnik) are in January.”

But, I don’t think the six goals in three games is an accident. He can’t sustain that level of scoring, but I thought he could get 30 goals in the AHL right off the bat for this very reason- he’s always been able to snipe the puck. However, what I didn’t realize is how much better shape he would be in…and how hard he would work on all 200 feet of the ice. That’s the kind of thing that earns a young player a chance at the big show sooner rather than later. Vatrano, Czarnik and Koko have been a dynamic line and there are bigger things ahead for all three if they keep playing hard and producing.

It’s all anyone can ask.

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