He had appeared in just four of the Toronto Maple Leafs previous 12 games and wasn’t considered a major addition when he was quietly reinserted into the lineup.
But Matt Frattin made a big time impact in his first ever NHL playoff game on Saturday in Game 2 and now has taken on a prominent role in the Leafs offensive attack.
That role? The sturdy, hard-hitting replacement for Phil Kessel on the top line, a decoy to eat up minutes against Zdeno Chara and make the Boston Bruins captain’s life a little more miserable.
“I moved him a couple times,” Frattin said of his hits on the big man as he prepared for Monday’s Game 3. “You have to – that’s how you wear a guy down.”
Frattin played just 11 minutes in Game 2, but they were of the quality variety, as he picked up an assist, had two shots on goal and a share of the team lead with five hits.
Easily the most noticeable thing he did was skate the puck out cleanly of the Leafs zone, using his speed and underrated passing skills at one point to burn around Bruins defenceman Dennis Seidenberg and set up Joffrey Lupul for the game’s second goal.
It was a play that would have been hard for Boston to game plan for given Frattin didn’t play in Game 1 and wasn’t considered to be a factor in the series, but it wasn’t a fluke.
He has been one of the Leafs better possession players all season and was a star player in the AHL, scoring 33 goals in 57 games in two years with the Toronto Marlies.
Frattin also got off to a huge start with the Leafs this season tallying seven goals and 10 points in his first 10 games – riding the Nazem Kadri hot streak, at least in part – but suffered a recurring knee problem and had to miss a month with minor surgery.
Afterward, he didn’t quite look like the same dynamic player and went scoreless in 15 games to close the year.
With so much time on the sidelines through April, however, Frattin had time to recover fully and also get pumped up for whenever he was back in the lineup, something that was fully evident in Saturday’s game.
While Leafs coach Randy Carlyle wasn’t revealing anything about his lineup for Game 3, it’s safe to say Frattin guaranteed he is staying a while, and he brings both the physical and skill elements that will be needed to win the series.
“Everybody wants to play, and when you get your opportunity, that’s when you’ve got to bring your game,” Frattin said. “It’s going to be a great environment. Anybody that’s a competitor or a professional is going to get amped up for a game like tonight.
“I can’t really picture [how loud it will be] because I’ve never been in a situation like this before.”
As for facing down the man known as Big Z, as Frattin did for half of his ice time in Game 2, the 25-year-old Edmonton native hardly sounds intimidated by the assignment.
He has always had terrific speed, balance and lower body strength, making him one of the hardest Leafs to knock over and a good candidate to tangle with a 6-foot-9 behemoth.
“He’s the best defenceman in the league for a reason, but we’ve just got to play hard on him,” Frattin said.
“I just hit [all of] the guys the exact same. Maybe you try and stay a little lower [on him] to try and keep the equilibrium down, but I don’t think too much about that. But you want to hit guys to wear them down. If you just swing by, it makes it easy on them.”