Chris Drury made his first move of the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline with the Frank Vatrano trade yesterday. The Rangers got Vatrano in exchange for the lesser of their 2022 4th round picks, which is solid value for a middle/bottom six winger. As per usual, I have thoughts.
Low risk, high reward
1. As mentioned, the Frank Vatrano trade is, at worst, a low risk trade that doesn’t pan out. At best, this is a trade that gives the Rangers a pure shot on the right side for Artemiy Panarin and Ryan Strome in the short term. He’s also going to give Filip Chytil a pure shooter on the third line once Kaapo Kakko is back. Vatrano has been close to a 20 goal pace as a middle six forward for the last three seasons, but is off that pace since getting moved down the depth chart in Florida this year.
2. So why was the Frank Vatrano trade so cheap for the Rangers? Simple – the Panthers needed to clear cap space. They acquired Ben Chiarot later in the day. Vatrano was an expensive luxury that the cap strapped Panthers could not afford. The Rangers, flexing their $32 million in trade deadline cap space available, scooped him up for cheap because they could take the full cap hit. Remember this as other trades come through: Taking the full cap hit matters.
Frank Vatrano trade bolsters forward depth
3. In the short term, the Frank Vatrano trade likely means a significant boost to the top six. Vatrano has proven he can score with talented players. Remember watching Dryden Hunt shoot pucks directly into Ville Husso’s pad? Vatrano doesn’t do that. The ripple effect in the lineup is clear too, as Hunt will move down the lineup, pushing Julien Gauthier, Jonny Brodzinski, or Ryan Reaves out of the lineup. Reaves has struggled mightily lately, and as much as I love Gauthier, he’s not scoring in the top nine at all. As for Brodzinski, his days with the NHL are numbered, even if he’s played well.
4. When Kakko comes back, it’s safe to assume he will be back on the second line, which worked very well. That pushes Vatrano to the third line with Chytil and likely Barclay Goodrow. This pushes another one of that trio out of the lineup. When Kevin Rooney returns, that pushes Greg McKegg out of the lineup. With just Vatrano and a healthy roster, the Rangers are looking at Goodrow-Chytil-Vatrano and Hunt-Rooney-Reaves/Gauthier as their bottom six. And that’s just with one trade.
Vatrano is sneaky solid
5. Beyond the roster depth, Vatrano is actually a quietly solid player. He hovers around 50% expected-goals regularly, which is what you want to see from the depth forwards.
The initial shock of the numbers might be terrifying, but Vatrano has been relatively unlucky this year, which is driving those numbers down. Specifically, his xGAR is far higher than his GAR, suggesting on-ice SH% –which at 7% this year is not only low, but higher than his most recent two seasons– is impacting his numbers. Get him on the Panarin line, and we should see that number go up. All he needs to do is keep shooting.
6. Vatrano adds two key elements to the Rangers: A shoot first guy who will fire it from anywhere, and a guy who is good on both the forecheck and the backcheck. That second line sorely needs it right now, and the whole lineup needs it even when healthy. Gallant wants his teams to get in deep on the forecheck and use that 1-2-2 to force turnovers. They haven’t done it consistently at all.
7. While the Frank Vatrano trade is nice, it isn’t a needle mover on its own. He rounds out the lineup, give the Rangers a much needed depth forward, but there’s still more work to be done. Ideally, the Rangers get another scoring forward that can push Goodrow to the fourth line. That’s not to say he will wind up there, especially if he clicks with Chytil and Vatrano once Kakko is healthy, but it gives Gallant the option. Options, flexibility, and matchups matter, especially in the playoffs. Fourth liners are rotated in and out of the lineup regularly in the playoffs, so depth and matchups will matter.