As the Boston Bruins’ season progresses, it is quite apparent that they are legitimate contenders. This is mainly because their team chemistry is outstanding. Every line is firing on all cylinders and scoring depth is at a premium. This is something that the Bruins have been lacking over the past few seasons. Yet, the way they are playing now is finally providing the team and its fan base with a new sense of optimism.
The growth of their younger players has given the Bruins far more to work with. Charlie McAvoy is quickly becoming the best defenseman on the team and is still only 20 years old. Former first-round pick Jake DeBrusk has solidified himself a spot in the B’s top-six and is quieting his critics. Yet, the biggest surprise of this season is the emergence of Danton Heinen. After going pointless in eight games last season, he shockingly is now one the team’s top scorers.
It is clear that there has been a lot of positive aspects to the Bruins’ season thus far. Yet, the Bruins are left with a strange situation with one of their former top prospects Frank Vatrano. He has been a healthy scratch for the majority of the year and that will not change any time soon. The Bruins have found their golden roster and he simply does not fit into it, especially with his lackluster play of late.
Vatrano’s Marvelous Start
When Vatrano completed his collegiate career at UMass-Amherst, he became an instant star with the Providence Bruins. In a 36 game stint with the club in 2015-16, he managed to score 36 goals and register 55 points. From there, he suddenly became a can’t-miss prospect and managed to land himself a call-up that same season.
Shortly after making the team, Vatrano scored a hat trick against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions of that season, the Pittsburgh Penguins. This outstanding individual performance created even greater expectations of him. His marvelous ability as a sniper, as well as his blistering speed, made many believe that he would end up becoming a legitimate top-six forward. Being from Massachusetts also made him instantly a fan favorite.
Through his first two seasons with the club, Vatrano showed in bursts that he had the potential to be a perennial scorer. His offensive upside was enough for management to keep him in the lineup and rightfully so. Not many players have the ability to score at a goal per game pace at any level, so their patience with him was understandable.
Frank Vatrano’s Struggles
As previously stated, things have taken a negative turn with Vatrano this season. He has found himself out of the Bruins lineup and it is easy to understand why. In 25 games this season, he has only scored two goals and has left minimal impact on the ice. The huge issue with this is that Vatrano is a player who made the league solely because of his offensive skill. Him not providing that completely drops his value to the club.
Vatrano constantly being a healthy scratch is only hurting his ability to improve as well. At age 23, there is still plenty of time left for him to progress, but he needs playing time to allow that to happen. Yet, his lackluster play is ultimately not warranting that to occur. The Bruins simply have far too much talent up front to stick a struggling forward back in their lineup. He has to make the most of his opportunities when his teammates get hurt. If he wants to return permanently, he needs to show he is capable of being more than a one-dimensional player.
Time for a Trade?
It is hard to determine Vatrano’s chances of staying with the team. The first impression that he left on the Bruins is enough to provide them with a bit of contemplation. There is still a possibility that he could end up being a very productive scorer in the NHL. He already had moments in his short career where that was the case. Yet, it is extremely challenging to continue to scratch a player who is clearly meant to be in the league. Morale can become a significant issue.
Realistically, it would be nice to trade Vatrano so he could be more than a healthy scratch. The major issue in doing this is that his trade value is at its lowest right now. Vatrano’s inability to crack the roster is not allowing him to display his talents. His atrocious offensive year will also make interest for his services not too present. At most, the Bruins may be able to land a middle round draft pick for him.
Whatever decision the Bruins make with Vatrano will provide a bit of risk. Trading him could end up being a massive mistake because his offensive side is lethal when he is on his game. Yet, keeping him in the press box every game will do nothing for them and Vatrano. If this continues, it may be best for both parties to move on.
Michael DeRosa is a contributor who covers the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, & Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers. Since 2017, he’s written and edited for numerous websites. Besides his work for THW, you can also find him on NHL Trade Rumors.