The New York Rangers have struggled with their depth at forward this season, especially with Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney out injured. However, general manager Chris Drury addressed that need, as the Blueshirts acquired winger Frank Vatrano from the Florida Panthers in exchange for a fourth-round pick. His skill set makes him an excellent fit for the Rangers, and he has already made a difference in his first few games with New York.
Vatrano’s Play Before the Trade
While the Rangers didn’t give up a lot to acquire Vatrano (who is 28 years old and set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season), he has had success as a role player in the NHL. The Boston Bruins signed him as an undrafted free agent, and he had 20 goals and 11 assists in 108 games with them before getting traded to the Florida Panthers during the 2017-18 season.
Vatrano broke out in 2018-19 with a quick release and an accurate shot, and he earned more ice time en route to becoming a key player for the Panthers. He finished the season with a career-high 24 goals, and also chipped in 15 assists. He earned a spot as a top-six forward for Florida with his effective forechecking and ability to capitalize on scoring chances.
Related: Panthers Trade Vatrano to Rangers
As the Panthers made the transition from rebuilding to contending, Vatrano remained a valuable forward who continued to provide them with secondary scoring and speed. He also killed penalties, and finished with 16 goals (including two shorthanded tallies) and 18 assists in 69 games during the 2019-20 season. He continued to play well last season, finishing with 18 goals and eight assists while playing in all 56 games.
This season, Vatrano’s ice time dwindled, as the Panthers’ forward group is loaded with talent. He averaged just 12:12 in ice time per game, but still had 10 goals and nine assists in 49 games. He had an impressive two-goal performance against the San Jose Sharks in his final game before getting traded.
Vatrano’s Role on the Rangers
One glaring issue for the Rangers this season had been their inability to find an effective winger to play on a line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. Both are pass-first players and Panarin is one of the NHL’s best playmakers. However, the duo has spent the majority of the season playing with Dryden Hunt, who has just four goals in 58 games this season.
Adding Vatrano should help Panarin and Strome and his strong shot makes him an ideal linemate for them. Additionally, Vatrano is a fast skater, which is especially valuable because while the Blueshirts have plenty of grit from their role players, they don’t have much speed.
Vatrano’s speed paid off in New York’s 2-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, as he blew past Carolina’s defensemen to get to a loose puck and score an empty-net goal to seal the game. Though that is his only point in his first three games with the Rangers, he has forechecked aggressively and created rebound opportunities for teammates. He has also made a few nice passes to set up his linemates, even though he hasn’t gotten any assists yet.
With Vatrano on the Rangers’ second line, Hunt is now able to play on line four, which was effective in New York’s consecutive wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning and Hurricanes.
For the Rangers and Vatrano Moving Forward
In the short term, Vatrano is a very good addition for the Rangers as they look to make the playoffs for the first time in five years and make a deep postseason run. He can be a top-six forward or he could provide them with some scoring depth as a bottom-six forward if that’s what the Blueshirts need from him. Additionally, if he plays well, the Rangers could look to re-sign him.
Acquiring Vatrano while only giving up a fourth-round pick could prove to be a steal for the Rangers and he appears to be an excellent fit for them.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.