With the historically defensive-minded “Big Bad Bruins” now in a state of disrepair on defense, NBC Sport’s Pro Hockey Talk points out that this is an “offense-first team” that needs to outscore its opponents to win games until the defense can be rebuilt. Enter Frank Vatrano, who has been one of the most talked about breakout candidates for the 2016-17 season. With Boston missing out on Jimmy Vesey, the spot promised to him on the left side of David Krejci is now open for competition. Although Matt Beleskey had a strong first year with the Bruins and some will call for top prospects like Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen to be given a chance, it seems as if a top six spot is Vatrano’s to lose this season.
Vatrano certainly didn’t underwhelm in his audition last year. With 11 points in 39 games in Boston, including three of his eight goals as a hat trick against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the UMass Minuteman showed that he can produce points at the highest level in just his first pro season. He also showed few holes in his game, a rare trait for young players that will keep him on coach Claude Julien’s good side. Meanwhile, he also showed that the AHL is not worthy of his scoring talent. With 36 goals in 36 games with the Providence Bruins, he took the league by storm, leading the AHL in goals and finishing fourth in points, with line mate Seth Griffith one of the three ahead of him. Pro Hockey Talk points out that Vatrano is only the fourth player in AHL history to average a goal per game and outscored former Bruin Chris Bourque of the Hershey Bears for the goal-scoring title despite playing in half as many games. That rate of scoring has no chance of continuing over the course of a full NHL season, but with his ability to put the puck in the net and a potential 82 games with playmakers like Krejci and David Pastrnak, 20-30 goals is well within the realm of possibility for the young Massachusetts native.
More from around the hockey world:
- Another local kid trying to make it big with his hometown team is Vincent Hinostroza of Bartlett, Illinois, a 2012 sixth round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks who starred at nearby Notre Dame University before turning pro last season. While Hinostroza failed to record a point in seven appearances with the Blackhawks in 2o16-17, he did well for himself with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, scoring 51 points in 66 games. Now, he has his sights set on a full-time NHL gig. Scott Powers of the The Athletic caught up with the young prospect after a recent skate, and learned that he has been working hard all summer with friend and teammate Ryan Hartman this summer, as both strive to make the cut with Chicago. Given the Blackhawks tight cap space and need for scoring depth, it seems likely that one if not both of the dynamic duo crack the lineup for significant portions of the upcoming season. Make your bets now on Vatrano & Griffith vs. Hinostroza & Hartman for total NHL points in 2016-17.
- Count Igor Makarov as one player not trying to make the Blackhawks, or return to the North America at all, for the 2016-17 season. Unsurprisingly, he will re-sign in the KHL for the upcoming year, joining Salavat Julaev UFA. A 2006 second round selection by Chicago, Makarov’s only attempt at living out his NHL dreams was a full season in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs in 2010-11, before he fled back to Russia and the comfort of the KHL. Now 28, Makarov has had a long career overseas, but not nearly as successful as many once thought. Simply a marginal player in a second-rate league, his chances of playing in the NHL are all but gone.
- Even if there is some star power missing in Providence and Rockford this season, the AHL will still go on. This afternoon, at 2:00pm CT, the AHL is set to release the 2016-17 schedule. Among the highlights will be the path to defending the Calder Cup title for the newly-named Cleveland Monsters (formerly Lake Erie Monsters), as they look to keep the city of Cleveland’s sudden and surprising winning ways going.