ANAHEIM — Frank Vatrano has one question when someone inevitably lets him know that he is a new member of their team.
“You’ll hear from people back home: ‘I picked you up in fantasy this year,’” Vatrano said. “I’ll say, ‘Did you have me on the bench? Or did you have me playing?’”
One of the newer Ducks players – Vatrano signed a three-year contract worth $10.95 million on the first day of free agency July 13 – deals with those same concerns when he is managing his NFL fantasy team.
It’s a great way to renew acquaintances – he played against Ducks center Ryan Strome last week – and is forging bonds by going head-to-head with new Ducks teammates. Naturally, the level-headed defenseman Cam Fowler happens to be commissioner of their league.
“We had a big draft about three or four weeks ago,” said Vatrano, whose team is led by Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. “Did a live draft. No phones. Nothing. No technology. We had to do it old-school.
“The guys in the middle are the steals.”
Vatrano could have been talking about himself. His versatility up front and shoot-first mentality are qualities that a team in transition like the Ducks can use. If Vatrano has the puck on his stick, he’s likely to shoot, which resulted in the game-winning goal on the power play in the Ducks’ 5-4 win against the Kings on Tuesday. The only surprise was that teammate Max Jones had more shots on goal (six) than Vatrano (five) against the Kings.
“Throughout my whole career, I’ve been a top nine guy who can play in the top six, like I did in New York last season and through a long playoff run,” Vatrano said. “And I can play on the third line. I’m not going to change the way I play if I’m on the first line or third line or fourth line. That’s the reason I’m here. That’s the reason why the team signed me to play my game and not change it.”
Vatrano said the Ducks were one of the first teams to check in during free agency, adding, “As soon as they called, it was a no-brainer.”
The experience he gained in the longest playoff run of his life – 20 games with the New York Rangers last spring, along with Strome, on the way to the Eastern Conference Final – was career-changing for him.
“When the playoffs start, it is just a completely different game,” Vatrano said. “No one cares what you did in the regular season – how many goals you had, how many points you had. It’s all about the team, and individual success you put aside.
“When you have that team success and individual success in playoffs, I don’t want to say you proved yourself at the highest stage possible. But just knowing you can do it … you want to get that feeling again.”
As expected, the Ducks sent goaltender Lukas Dostal to their AHL affiliate in San Diego, the official assignment coming Wednesday. Dostal appeared in two preseason games and had a save percentage of .945. The Ducks’ roster stands at 29 players.
It’s undeniable that Dostal has a bright future in the organization, possibly NHL-ready in the next 12 months.
“He’s really smart. He’s 22, but he acts like 30,” Ducks forward Pavol Regenda said.
Ducks goalie Sudarshan Maharaj echoed those sentiments regarding Dostal’s maturity,
“Of all the young goalies I’ve had, by far, he’s one of the most focused individuals I’ve ever had,” Maharaj said earlier in camp. “He has a goal in mind and he follows it in everything he does. His practice habits are meticulous. His recovery habits are meticulous. His pregame routines are meticulous.
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“At a very young age, he already has a professional attitude well beyond his years.”
Dostal can get caught up in the details, so it’s Maharaj’s task to remind him of the bigger picture.
“With Lukas, he is so meticulous in everything he does,” Maharaj said. “It’s one of those things where you have to constantly remind him that you can almost over-detail things, so you want to stay with him about keeping a simple focus. You have to remind him that, yes, we’ll address that and you’ll work on those things.”