Last year, Frank Vatrano’s plans on making the Boston Bruins’ lineup at the start of the season got derailed when he ended up injured—suffering torn ligaments in his left foot during training just before camp began. This resulted in surgery and he was ultimately off the ice for three months. By the time he was able to get back into the game, the Bruins were having some troubles and the lineup was in somewhat of a flexible state, not allowing Vatrano to settle in and show what he could do.
This season he has come into camp completely healthy and he has matured some as well. His determination is present too, and he knows the areas of his game he needs to work on.
“I think my overall game just needs to get better. I think I need to be a complete 200-foot player and I just need to bring consistency night in and night out,” Vatrano stated after finishing his first on-ice session of training camp on Friday.
And he’s not taking training camp lightly. He understands the level of competitiveness that exists this season, especially with some talented younger players vying for slots.
“It’s really competitive, so, you know, every practice is like a game. You gotta treat it like that. You gotta bring your best effort forward,” he shared. “There’s young guys that are coming in that can compete for a spot and for those guys that have been here they don’t want to lose that job, so they’re going to work even harder to keep that spot.”
Once he did get into the lineup last season, he hit an unexpected wall, but it wasn’t a player. Instead it was his own mind.
“You’re younger and you realize that things aren’t going your way,” he described. “You try to keep a steady mindset and yet keep a positive mindset. I think that’s the biggest thing for me is don’t get down on myself, if I make mistakes, or I’m not playing the best, just know that I’m in the NHL and I’ve just gotta do what I do that got me here.”
Perhaps Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has helped him along that cerebral path, in a way, by acknowledging that the players may not always have their A game. But as long as they bring a B game, they can still contribute to the team and help the Bruins take a win instead of a loss. Cassidy’s suggestion of bringing a B game is not meant to excuse any player from hitting the ice with 100% effort. Instead it is intended to offer what he considers an acceptable alternative when struggling.
Playing 82 games in a season, before even making it to the playoffs, takes a toll on all the players. It’s clear when some players are on fire and when some are in their heads. Cassidy’s approach is to help his players come up with other ways to contribute when they are fighting the puck, instead of perhaps just overthinking things and getting deeper into a non-productive cycle, also known as gripping the stick too tightly.
“You know, a lot of nights you can’t always have your A game when you play eighty-two nights a year of games plus, so I’ve asked the players, ‘Listen, some nights the puck doesn’t cooperate with you; it’s not following you. You have to get back to the team,’” Cassidy explained. “Whether you’re tracking back, solid defensively, bringing some energy to finish checks, to bring something to the team that way.”
This has Vatrano thinking about what else he can do if he finds his A game isn’t there. And perhaps he should hear what Coach Cassidy had to say in regard to some options.
“For Frank, it would be energy, because he’s a straight-line skater. [He] creates some loose puck situations,” Cassidy suggested. “Maybe get some offense created that way. A pretty good line rush, whatever line he’s on generally, and he’s got a good release to score off the rush.”
Vatrano is listening to his head coach and the assistant coaches. He understands that success rests with him, especially this season given that he is healthy. Setbacks such as the injury he experienced last season make it hard to find a permanent slot at the NHL level in mid-season. Now it is up to him and what he is willing to do to claim that spot when the puck drops at the start of the season.
“I think I’m a younger guy who’s got a good opportunity here,” he elaborated. “The organization has treated me great since I [first] stepped foot here. They gave me the chance to play in the NHL and that’s been my dream my whole life. So for me I just want to prove to Boston and everyone that I can be a fulltime NHL player. I can play a 200-foot game. I can play a consistent game night in and night out. And that’s what I have to prove here starting with today.”