Looking to make the leap: Frank Vatrano

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This is part of Boston Bruins day at PHT…

Finishing with the fifth most goals in the NHL, it should be obvious that offense was not the issue for the Boston Bruins during the 2015-16 season. The issue that held them out of the playoffs for a second straight year was — and still is — the state of the defense.

But even though offense wasn’t the issue and was the one element of the team that at least kept them in playoff contention for much of the season, the Bruins did lose one of their top goal scorers and one of the biggest contributors to that offense when Loui Eriksson, one of three 30-goal scorers on the team, left in free agency to join the Vancouver Canucks.

The Bruins did bring in veteran forward David Backes in free agency, but they also have some younger options internally that could help replace some of the offense that Eriksson provided. One of those young players is 22-year-old forward Frank Vatrano.

Originally undrafted out of Umass-Amherst, the 2015-16 season was Vatrano’s first full season of pro hockey and he ended up making a pretty big statement with his performance at both the AHL and NHL levels.

He only appeared in 39 games for the Bruins in the NHL, but ended up scoring eight goals, including one in his very first NHL game, and then later his first career hat trick during a 6-2 win in Pittsburgh.

When he wasn’t in the NHL, he was dominating the AHL level where he averaged a goal per game, scoring 36 goals in only 36 games.

That performance was good enough to lead the AHL in goals, while he was just the fourth player in league history to average at least a goal per game (minimum 30 games, via the AHL). Hershey’s Chris Bourque was second in the league with 30 goals, six behind Vatrano. Bourque played in 36 more games.

Given where the Bruins defense is at this point and how little was done to address it over the summer it is pretty clear that the team’s best chance for success this season is either Tuukka Rask playing out of his mind in net, or having an offense that can just simply outscore everybody else every night.

It still feels weird to say after the way the Bruins used to systematically shut teams down with a suffocating defense in recent years, but this is now an offense-first team, and Vatrano will have a chance to be another scoring option this season.