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Season break down: The 2018-2019 season for Frank Vatrano was a break-out one. Starting his season outside the top-6, Vatrano quickly found himself playing on those top-2 lines and scoring big goals along the way. Since being acquired from Boston just over a year ago, the un-drafted forward has surpassed expectations.
Vatrano made the Bruins opening 2017-2018 roster but was given a short leash and not given a real chance to prove himself. He admitted that he was given more freedom since being acquired and that has allowed him to play his style consistently. He played so well in limited time that he was given a one-year, one-way, prove-it contract by Florida.
Frank made the Panthers 2018-2019 opening night roster, starting on the 3rd line. He was centered by Jared McCann and flanked by Denis Malgin. With McCann and Malgin shutting down the opposition, Vatrano made his mark on the scoreboard. This caught the attention of Coach Bob Boughner. With the team not winning a lot of games to begin the season, he was looking for a spark. With the top line sputtering, Boughner moved Nick Bjugstad to the 3rd line, Mike Hoffman to the 1st line, and Vatrano to the 2nd line with Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau. The move paid off immediately as Vatrano scored in his first game on that line to help the Panthers win their 4th straight. He would assist on Aaron Ekbladâ€™s first goal of the season in the next game on the power-play to extend the Pantherâ€™s win streak to 5. He would be relied on more heavily in the next couple of games as Vincent Trocheck went down with an injury.
Frank would continue to turn heads, as by the all-star break he had already surpassed his career highs in goals with 16 and points with 26. 4 of those points coming just before the all-star game itself.
With his consistent play he was given more time on Floridaâ€™s second power-play unit. His grit in the cornerâ€™s allowed the Panthers to win puck battles and set up their man-advantage opportunities. He also has a deceptive release on his shot that reminds me of former Panther and current Golden Knight/Chicago Wolve Brandon Pirri. Something that I feel has been missing on the power-play since the 2015-2016 season.
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Because of his consistency, being reliable, and exceeding expectations Vatrano was given a 3-year extension with the Panthers. He is one of a handful of players that I can say earned his contract after given a “prove-it” deal. By the time he signed his extension, “…he lead the Panthers with 19 goals scored at even-strength, while among all Panthers forwards ranks first in blocked shots (55) and second in hits (89).” Read more about Frankâ€™s extension here.
The cap hit is extremely reasonable for a now 20 goal scorer, at 2.53m per year. Maybe a team up North in Toronto should take notes. Frank is no longer an unknown commodity in Florida. He will be relied upon as being a spark plug and helping to anchor the Pantherâ€™s power-play units for the next few seasons. Following his career year, he was invited to play for the United States in the IIHF tournament this summer. He posted 2-1-3 in 8 games played, one of his goals being a game-winner.
The Grade: For the 2018-2019 season, I give Vatrano an A. Given that we he acquired late last season, he had a lot to prove. He was also an unknown to a lot of us here in South Florida. Tallon felt confident not only trading for him (and subsequently shutting the door on a floundering prospect) but in signing him to his 3-year extension. One noticeable thing about his game was his two-way play. He may have put up career highs on offense but he was no slouch on the defensive side of the puck. He ended his season with 139 hits (career high) and 74 shots blocked (team lead).
What he needs to work on this off-season:
- Continue to build on his career year, I believe he has the potential to hit 30 goals and be the kind of player that you can rely on at any point in the game.
- Donâ€™t fall on the Pantherâ€™s starting goaltender at any-point. (I kid, but seriously.)
With the rumors surrounding the Panthers this summer, I am not sure where Vatrano will fit on next yearâ€™s roster. If the Panthers take the next step and become the team that we all believe they are, Frank will begin the season on the 3rd line again. Only this time, I believe he will have capable line-mates that can help him carry the load. He may not stay there long. Heâ€™s proven that he can take on a bigger role and provide a spark for the team. If the Panthers falter out of the gate again, expect to see no. 72 penciled in with Vinny Trocheck on the 2nd line.
For all of Frankâ€™s 2018-2019 Highlights, please check out his season rewind!
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