Ask Panthers forward Frank Vatrano, and he?ll say Thursday?s game against the Boston Bruins is just another hockey game. Whether you believe him or not is up to you.
Vatrano will face his former team for the first time since Boston traded him last month to Florida for a third-round pick. In Boston, Vatrano was buried on the depth chart, overtaken by young forwards like Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk. He played just 25 games, scoring two goals.
?It?s just another hockey game,? Vatrano said. ?I have some good friends over in that room. It?s just another hockey game. I want to go out there and prove I can play. That?s pretty much what I want to do, hopefully get a win.?
The Bruins were the only organization Vatrano ever knew. When he was a teenager growing up in East Longmeadow, Mass., (about 90 miles west of Boston), Vatrano played for the Boston Jr. Bruins. He went to college at UMass (Amherst) for two seasons before signing with Boston as an undrafted free agent.
As a local product, Vatrano said the decision to sign with the Bruins ?was kind of a no brainer.?
Vatrano will play his third game for the Panthers on Thursday night, the first of four games down the stretch against Boston. Vatrano has primarily played on Florida?s second line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck. He has one goal.
?When he got in, he sort of meshed right in,? Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. ?Offensively, playing with Troch and Huby, not easy to jump right in with those two guys. His offensive instincts are good. He makes himself available and gets himself open and makes great plays in close. Obviously, his shot is a big asset.?
The second-line role was a stark difference to his place in Boston. With the Bruins, Vatrano was often a healthy scratch, but wasn?t exposed to waivers since he would have been plucked by another team. So he remained in press box purgatory.
When he did play, Heinen and DeBrusk claimed the offensive roles in Boston and Vatrano was relegated to a fourth-line grinder. But Vatrano didn?t fit in with the defensive style of a fourth line.
?Guys ended up, I don?t know if passing is the right word, but I guess we?ll use that one, and started to take his minutes,? Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ?And then with Frank, I don?t know if he was a fit on the fourth line. Once he got knocked out of those second and third line roles, we liked our fourth line, [Tim] Schaller, [Noel] Acciari, [Sean] Kuraly. So he went from the third line to out of lineup unfortunately for Frank.?
Vatrano averaged just 9:28 of ice time per game in Boston, a paltry figure for a player who scored 39 goals in 43 AHL games with Providence. In his first game with Florida on Saturday against the Rangers, Vatrano logged a career-high 19:05.
Cassidy also said a slew of injuries derailed Vatrano?s progress. When he was traded to Florida, Vatrano missed eight games with a high-ankle sprain.
?Then guys solidify themselves in the lineup and welcome to pro hockey type of thing,? Cassidy said. ?That?s how it goes. I wish Frank personal success, hopefully not tonight, but tomorrow or their next game.?
Vatrano added: ?The Bruins gave me a chance to live out my dream and play in the NHL, so I?ll be forever thankful for that. They gave me a chance to play with some pretty good guys and they developed me in the AHL. When it was my time to come up, they had me come up and I was up there ever since.?
After he was traded in February, Vatrano was able to go back to the hotel to tell his then-Boston teammates about the transaction.
?I said ?See you guys four times here down the stretch.? It?s just another hockey game, but it?s nice when you?re playing against some familiar faces. ? I?m sure I?ll be getting an earful from some of the guys over there, so I?m excited to hear.?
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