When you look at what Frank Vatrano is doing for the Providence Bruins this season, it just doesn’t add up.
After all- he’s an undersized, formerly chunky kid who didn’t even get drafted, right? How is it possible that he’s on the verge of hitting the 30-goal mark (in the AHL) in his first pro season and is leading that league in goal scoring? It doesn’t seem to compute, and yet here we are- the undrafted free agent who played just one full season of NCAA hockey with the UMass Minutemen before signing with the Boston Bruins a year ago- is the hockey story of the year. He has to be.
Vatrano’s 29 goals are two more than (former UNH star) Mike Sislo’s 27, but here’s the thing: Vatrano has done it in 26 *fewer* games than Sislo’s 54 with the Albany Devils. That’s simply astounding.
I posted an update on B’s prospects yesterday that featured Vatrano and joked that he had “cooled off” with “only” 26 goals in 27 AHL games headed into yesterday afternoon’s home contest against the Portland Pirates. Then, he not only lit the lamp three times for the third time (including a Texas hat trick- 4 goals- in there) this season and fourth when you include the three-goal game he posted for the Boston Bruins against Pittsburgh in December, but he became only the third player in AHL history to tally three unassisted goals and the first since Michel Picard of the Prince Edward Island (PEI) Senators in November of 1994.
To put it another way- he is simply killing it and can score whether someone is setting the table for him or he’s having to create his own offense. Don’t believe me? Just look at yesterday’s three tallies and decide for yourself (video thanks to the excellent Weekend at Bergy’s Bruins blog)
On the first one, he gets some good puck luck as he comes around the back of the net on a wraparound and it goes in off of someone else. The second goal comes off of an intercepted pass at the blue line and he beats Pirates goalie Mike McKenna with a wicked snipe that has become his trademark calling card. The third goal- in overtime- comes when he puts on a burst of pure speed at center ice, blows by the defender in the offensive zone and buries another of his shots to close it out.
Had Vatrano not played 30 NHL games with the big club from November to January, we might see him on the verge of 50 markers. Having said that- he realized his dream in reaching the NHL in his very first professional season and we can all rest assured that it won’t be long before we see him in Boston again.
At this point, though, when you have such a mature outlook the way Vatrano does, that’s of secondary importance given how well he’s playing in Providence and how much more dangerous he makes his team when he’s in the lineup. Here’s his response to the Providence Journal’s Mark Divver when asked if Vatrano wonders what he needs to do to get back up to Boston/the NHL?
‘It’s something I can’t control. I’ve just gotta keep doing my thing down here. When the time is right for me to go up, the time is right.’
You can make a good argument that he should be back up with the big club now. However, with the forward lines rolling of late pretty well, it’s just as well that he’s being allowed to spread his wings and dominate the way he is in the AHL. It’s not a matter of if Vatrano will be back in the NHL but when.
Not bad for a guy who was passed over repeatedly in the draft but who went to work over the summer to reinvent himself as a dedicated professional.
We talk about a movie being produced for John Scott and his All-Star weekend experience, but what about Boston’s own “Springfield Rifle”? I don’t think Hollywood could script this improbable path from the Boston Jr. Bruins to the NHL Bruins any better than what Vatrano has accomplished on his own this season.
As we enter the final month of the AHL season, we’re now eagerly left to wonder- how high can Vatrano soar?
We’ve already seen some impressive stuff from the soon-to-be 22-year-old. It looks like a lot more is in store.
Here’s his first NHL hatty: