The New York Rangers kicked off their shopping spree this past trade deadline when they plucked winger Frank Vatrano from the Florida Panthers. Approximately a month after the acquisition, Vatrano continues to display his value with his new team. With more injuries plaguing the forwards again, depth has never held more importance to the team as they gear up for their first playoff run since the 2016-17 season.
Yet, the 28-year-old’s performance has transcended higher than just a depth move. He slid right into a second-line role but was promptly upgraded to the first line to skate alongside Chris Kreider and centerman Mika Zibanejad. A transition right into the top-six was not an easy task to ask Vatrano of — yet, he’s showed no signs of struggle. His penchant for throwing the puck at the net is a tendency that is gladly welcomed by the Rangers and something they lacked among their skaters.
A Closer Look at Vatrano’s Earlier Career
As a draft selection of the Boston Bruins, the winger made his NHL debut in the 2015-16 season as a 21-year-old. The beginning portion of his career prolonged with the Bruins until he was traded to the Panthers during the 2017-18 season. The following season, he established a career-high for points with 39. Twenty-four of those were goals, another career record also that he has not reached since.
With the Panthers earlier this season, the New England native racked up 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 49 games. Since his move to the Big Apple, he registered 11 points in 16 games. Seven of those points were goals, while the other four came from helpers. He averages a little over 15 minutes a game, three more than what he usually received in Florida. Vatrano’s adjustment period following the trade was essentially nonexistent. He collected his first goal in his third game, which was against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The entirety of Vatrano’s production came while his team was at even strength. Not only is he producing, but his performance addressed one of the main concerns of the Rangers – their even-strength scoring. Over the duration of his NHL career, he’s been used up and down the lineup. He went from a bottom-six player in Florida and clearly fit right in with the Rangers instantaneously as a perfect match. He also already hit some important marks in his career as well, including his first multi-goal game as a Ranger.
In the midst of his seven-year playing career, he sorted out his approach rather quickly. “For me, that’s just bringing a simple game, moving my feet, being physical and trying to make plays whenever they’re there.” When playing a simple game like that, the Rangers are a better team. Vatrano’s arrival could solely help reinforce that mindset among his teammates (from ‘Frank Vatrano thriving with bigger role since Rangers trade,’ New York Post, 3/28/22).
A Playoff Vatrano Preview By the Numbers
With the East Conference matchups sliding around thanks to the recent hot streak of the Washington Capitals, the Rangers are still awaiting their first-round playoff opponent. An interesting aspect of Vatrano’s career is that he has a list of teams he performs noticeably better against; three of those teams being the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Regardless of who will be at the other end of the ice, the Penguins, Leafs, and Lightning have something to prove and could be a direct obstacle for the Rangers to face.
In 16 career games against the Penguins, he collected 13 points (nine goals, four assists). Other than the Detroit Red Wings, there is not a single team that he capitalized more on than Pittsburgh. This season, as a Blueshirt, he scored in all three of his meeting against the Penguins, with one being the game-winning goal.
Not only does he possess a tendency to score reliably on certain teams, but the goals are crucial, game-defining goals as well. Should the Rangers see the Penguins in the postseason, he is definitely a player to keep an eye on. The addition of the former Panther allows for comfortable shuffling with the bottom-six spots. Not only will his opportunistic style become crucial in a playoff series, but having stronger depth will make all the difference too.
Against the Lightning, the winger registered 11 points in 23 games (eight goals, three assists). This is one of his less impressive statistics, but the breakdown of production against the Lightning is what’s interesting here — the eight goals against a notoriously sound defensive team. The Lightning would be one of the toughest competitors for the Rangers, given the team has won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons. Though the Blueshirts swept the regular-season series against the Lightning, that cannot be a reason to let up on the gas.
In his 14 games against the Maple Leafs, Vatrano has collected seven points (three goals, four assists). He joined the Rangers after the team completed their series, but this is another organization the Rangers fared well against. The top-line winger has only seen four wins in 14 career playoff games. Surely, this playoff run is going to mean something more to him this season.
The Winnipeg Jets will visit the Rangers tonight as the regular season begins to wind down. The Rangers’ offense is still led by Kreider, who has reached a personal milestone of 50 goals. Crafty winger Artemi Panarin leads the team with 68 assists and a whopping 90 points. Jets’ Kyle Connor leads his team with 43 goals and 44 assists on the season and also takes the third category with the most points at 87.