Bruins rookie Frank Vatrano, a hometown kid from East Longmeadow, MA, has enjoyed success in his first few games in the Bruins uniform. Vatrano represents the growth of college hockey into the NHL and how college hockey players are just as capable as guys from junior leagues throughout the world.
“College hockey not only allows for a readiness on the ice in terms of skill, but there’s a social and outside-the-classroom aspect to developing a personality and comfort within your own skin enabling players to enter the NHL and be successful,” said Mike Cammalleri, former player at the University of Michigan, a Big Ten conference team.
College hockey is trying to expand working with the NHL to do so. A big step was taken this year with Arizona State becoming a Division 1 hockey program, a transition from club hockey. If more teams make the jump from club hockey to Division 1, the college game will continue to develop. Arizona State is hoping to succeed and expand college hockey into the Pac-12.
Thirty percent of the NHL players this year were developed in the NCAA. In this year’s past NHL entry draft, three of the top ten picks were from the NCAA; Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski.
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This was the first year that three of the top ten picks in the NHL have come from the college hockey ranks. Eichel has been said to be one of the best products to come out of the United States in years and has been compared to Mike Modano, an eight time all-star and the leader in points and goals scored by an American player.
Another well-known player out of college hockey was last year’s runner up for the Calder Trophy, Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau played college hockey for powerhouse Boston College and went on to be selected by the Calgary Flames in the fourth round.
Gaudreau has already paid dividends as a fourth round pick, drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane. Coming out of the Hockey East conference, Gaudreau has similar ties to the college game just as Vatrano does, who played in the same college hockey conference.
Vatrano was not drafted in the NHL draft but signed as an undrafted free agent with the Boston Bruins following his sophomore year at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (Umass). As a Umass student, I was luckily enough to see Vatrano play and his ability to score is elite. All Vatrano seems to do every game is score.
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Vatrano proved his scoring to be potent from the start with the Providence Bruins. Vatrano put up a quick ten goals in ten games for Providence. Vatrano had ten goals for Umass in his sophomore season. While he was special at Umass, it seems as if he has only gotten better. This scoring outburst propelled him into the NHL as the Bruins called him up to make his professional debut against historic rival, the Montreal Canadiens.
Vatrano had a night to remember in his debut. In the second period, Vatrano ripped a laser past Canadien goalie Mike Condon. While Gaudreau has drawn comparisons to Kane, Vatrano makes more sense to me as a comparison. He is a lefty like Kane and has a very similar style of play to Kane. He has a long way to go to be in the same class, as Kane but their games resemble each other a lot.
Both Vatrano and Kane can be playmakers when they need to be. However, both of these players are top class at putting pucks on the net and scoring. Vatrano has 17 shots on goal in his first four games. Kane has always been among the top players in the NHL for shots on goal. The main difference between the two is the path taken to the NHL.
Kane was seen as the best prospect in the draft while Vatrano was barely seen as a prospect. Kane went on to be drafted number one overall and Vatrano was undrafted. Kane has been selected to four all-star teams already and has hoisted the Stanley Cup three times in his still young career.
Vatrano is just getting started and while he was often overlooked, Vatrano is going to be one of those guys who prove everybody wrong. After all, this is Boston, home to the most overlooked player of all time in a draft, Tom Brady. Vatrano is just another overlooked player who will prove those who said he wasn’t good enough wrong.