In an exhilarating clash between the Edmonton Oilers ..
He had finally killed his seven-game scoreless drought, nabbing the overtime winner to give the Anaheim Ducks a 3-2 comeback victory over their rivals from San Jose. Immediately afterward, he tossed his stick into the crowd, displaying a visible sigh of relief, creating one of the more epic goal celebrations this year.
“It was more out of anger than excitement,” Vatrano recalled with a smile. “I hadn’t scored in like six or seven games. It was a spur-of-a-moment thing, but it felt good to get that one.”
Happy moments haven’t been easy in Anaheim, but he knows better days are ahead. The Ducks sit 30th in the NHL with a record of 18-30-2, eight points ahead of the last-place Chicago Blackhawks. But it’s all part of the process – one every member of the roster understands.
It will be a painful few years, but the future looks bright in Orange County.
With 532 games played, the 29-year-old is one of the most experienced skaters on the roster. Six players – including Leo Carlsson and Pavel Mintyukov – are well below the 50-game mark, with 12 players having skated in 200 or fewer.
Vatrano has been attached at the hip with 21-year-old Mason McTavish this season, while also having stints with 19-year-old Carlsson and 22-year-old Zegras.
He’s also having a career-best season, scoring 22 goals and 36 points. Vatrano is well on his way to beating his 41-point output from 2022-23, with the potential to crack 60 points for the first time in his career. His name has been thrown around in trade rumors, with some theorizing the Ducks could look to capitalize on his value – especially given he’s signed for another year at $3.65 million – and continue the rebuild.
“I’m happy in Anaheim, I love it there,” Vatrano said. “Obviously, I don’t want to go anywhere but that’s way out of my control. I’m excited to be in Anaheim right now.”
Vatrano’s thinking long-term. And with the group he’s surrounded by, he thinks greatness isn’t too far away. The Ducks have one of the best young cores in the league with many big-name prospects still on the way – including defenseman Olen Zellweger, who debuted in the NHL late last month, and forward Cutter Gauthier.
“We have such a wide age gap on our team,” Vatrano said, with 34-year-old Alex Killorn being the elder statesman while Carlsson is the youngest at 19. “We’ve got guys on our team that were playing in the NHL at 18 years old, which is not easy. The things they do on the ice right now, it will be incredible seeing what these guys are like in two to three years.”
Vatrano is especially fond of Carlsson’s play. Taken second overall in 2023, Carlsson has emerged as the team’s No. 1 center early on. He hasn’t had the same spotlight as Connor Bedard, but Carlsson has still become one of the best rookies in the NHL.
“He’s going to be one of the biggest superstars in this league,” Vatrano said. “Just to see the things that he does (at 19 years old), and the confidence and the swagger that he has to use this skill set at this stage. To think about what I was doing at 18 years old compared to him, it’s not even close.”
Vatrano smiled the most when talking about his teammates. He understands the talent, he knows the potential, and they’re getting through all the dark days together.
“We live in California, so the world’s our oyster,” Vatrano said. “You can go to the beach, you can do whatever you want. We’re really close. “We try to always get the scoop on what the young guys are doing, but they don’t give us much. So we try to give him them a little bit of sh- – I can’t say that – but we have a really close group, especially with the age gaps. Regardless if you’re 34 or 18, we all are little kids at heart.”
Vatrano is bound to see a nice raise on his next deal in 2025. After bouncing around as a depth forward for a few years, he finally seems to have found a good home in Anaheim. And you can tell from his energy how much of an honor it was for him to be named to the NHL All-Star Game. He’s a skilled player with many good years ahead of him, and he hopes he can keep things rolling in Anaheim.
With all the young talent, the Ducks look like a serious long-term contender – and Vatrano likes what he’s seeing.