Doc Emerick once said, “it’s often the third and fourth line guys”. In terms of cultivating a championship caliber team, the latter portion of your lineup often is the most important. That being said, finding the proper components is easier said than done.
In the case of the Boston Bruins, since their 2013 run at the Cup, finding those players has proven to be difficult. Recently that trend initially appears to be changing. In fact they didn’t have to go very far geographically to find them.
Both Frank Vatrano and Tim Schaller went undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts and Providence College respectively. Vatrano signed a deal with the Bruins entering 2015-16 after a strong training camp, but was assigned to the AHL affiliate Providence. From there, he was nearly a goal per game player. The East Longmeadow Massachusetts native possesses the skating ability and heavy snap shot to compete at the NHL level with ease. While short in stature, there is no lack of heart when it comes to “Frank the Tank“. Off season surgery sidelined him for the bulk of the early portion of the 2016-17 season, but since his return, he’s added another scoring threat on the power play. Also, allowing head coach Claude Julien some flexibility with his line mixing in game.
Merrimack, New Hampshire product Tim Schaller may have raised some eye brows when he chose the Friars rather than committing to his hometown team. In four seasons at Providence, Schaller’s most productive season came in his last as a Friar tallying 23 points. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, it was enough to be signed by Buffalo. In three seasons between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans, he was far more effective at the AHL level than the NHL.
Unlike Vatrano, Schaller didn’t impress the brass with his first shot at professional hockey. So, when the Bruins signed the free agent this past off season, not a whole lot was expected of him. Especially when you consider it was only a one year deal. Regardless of the logistics, to the contract one thing is for certain, Schaller has made the best of his second shot at the NHL.Embed from Getty Images
Since being a relatively obvious choice to crack the opening night lineup, he’s posed as another cog to allow Julien some breathing room with his lineup. You don’t have to ask twice when it comes to Tim as he’ll most likely do what he’s asked of. He’s fought, gone to the dirty areas on the power play, and most notibly shown chemistry with the Bruin’s top offensive weapons.
Boston currently owns the second playoff spot in the Atlantic, with absolutely no cushion separating them from just about everyone else below them in their division. At this point of the season, every team has its laundry list of injuries, as points reach its highest premium. It’s the players like Vatrano and Schaller that need to shine brightest in order to solidify Boston’s appearance in the playoffs.
On the edge of missing the playoffs for an unprecedented third season in a row, it’s all hands on deck for Boston. Collecting 6 out of a possible 8 points on the road in four games, it’ll be a mad scramble to the finish line. With the injuries suffered to key players on the four game road trip, the previously mentioned players may be leaned on more than ever.