Vatrano steps up to plate for first NHL All-Star Game

With his first NHL All-Star Game appearance ahead of him, Frank Vatrano credits a multi-sport upbringing for his success on the ice with the Anaheim Ducks.

Vatrano steps up to plate for first NHL All-Star Game

Feature photo: Getty Images

Frank Vatrano could have taken a swing at pursuing a baseball career, but the current points leader for the Anaheim Ducks ultimately chose ice over diamonds.

During a recent Q&A piece, Vatrano, now in his ninth NHL season and second with the Ducks, admitted that he would have pursued a career in professional baseball should hockey not have worked out.

As it turns out, the 29-year-old, who is set to appear in his first NHL All-Star Game, was a big hit at the plate and in the outfield while growing up in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.  

“When I was a kid, I played catcher, but I would complain when it was too hot out and that my knees hurt, so I ended up moving to the outfield,” recalled Vatrano who played baseball for 12 years.

“I was always quick, so I enjoyed playing the outfield you are always involved in the game when you play there.”                                                                                         

Playing baseball in the spring and summer and hockey in the fall and winter helped Vatrano, a Boston Red Sox fan, excel in both pursuits.

“I think hockey translates more to baseball. With baseball, I think I was a good hitter because of how quick the reaction time has to be. With hockey, having the puck on your stick and needing to shoot the puck quickly helped me when I was batting. Playing the outfield, you also need to react quickly and get to the right spot, which was something I learned from hockey, too.

Playing both sports also assisted Vatrano with the intangibles.

“Baseball is more of a mental sport. With hockey, you don’t have to wait long for your next chance to get into the action. With baseball, you have to wait for your chance to do something positive.

“If you struck out or made an error, you don’t know when you are going to have that next opportunity. With hockey, if you don’t like something that you did, you can be out there faster to change things.”

Eventually, Vatrano opted for hockey gloves over a baseball mitt a move that has paid off handsomely.

The forward joined the U.S. National Development Team in 2010-11 for two seasons after a standout youth hockey career with the Boston Jr. Bruins. He went on to skate in 37 games over two seasons with the University of Massachusetts Minutemen of the NCAA.

After going undrafted, Vatrano signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins in March 2015. During his first season in 2015-16, Vatrano split his time between the NHL and American Hockey League, where he posted 55 points in 36 games with the Providence Bruins to capture top rookie honours alongside San Antonio’s Mikko Rantanen (now with the Colorado Avalanche).

Vatrano has since played with Florida Panthers and New York Rangers before he signed a three-year deal with the Ducks in July 2022.

His time with the Ducks has seen standout performances from the forward, who is zeroing in on career-best marks this season in all three major offensive categories.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed.

On Jan. 4, Vatrano was named to the 2024 NHL All-Star Game, which will see festivities take place in Toronto Feb. 1-3.   

“I always set certain goals for myself, and I have exceeded expectations for myself this year. The biggest thing for me is to play the same way every night. I have been fortunate to play with some great players this year and the puck just seems to be finding the net that’s sometimes how scoring goals goes. Once you see goals go in early in the year, you kind of play with that swagger for the rest of the year.”

The offensive success has also made Vatrano better equipped to handle an off night or scoreless drought.

“Sometimes you are going to go a certain number of games without scoring and that’s when you play tight and tend to overthink things. When you get the goals at the beginning of the year, it’s nice to have that in the back of your mind. So, when you do have those droughts, you can weather them and get out of them quicker.”

Vatrano, who has reached the 20-goal plateau for the third time in his career, has a longstanding approach to his off-season preparations.

“I’ve been doing the same training and same routine since my first year of pro. If I find something that works, I just like to stay with it, and not switch things up.”

One thing he would like to see change is Anaheim’s record in one-goal games.

“We want to be a competitive bunch, a group that is hard to play against. We want to get more wins we’ve lost a lot of one-goal games and create more offence. We want to be that team that makes you work for the full 60 minutes. We have guys who are committed to doing that.”

A list that includes current teammate Troy Terry.

Vatrano selected the fifth-round pick of the Ducks in 2015 as his favourite all-time Ducks player in the aforementioned Q&A.

“I love watching Troy play the game, the way he competes every single night, the way he sees the ice, the way he makes plays he is a very talented player. I always say he’s my favourite player because I always give him a tough time off the ice. He’s good about it and he’s always fun to be around.”

As is Vatrano, the former baseball standout who is now a big hit in NHL circles.

This begs the question has he ever scored a baseball-type goal during his time in the big leagues?

“I think I have one. But I don’t know if I wouldn’t consider it a baseball swing. It was in the air, and I tapped it in. The most important thing was that it counted.”