“He’s a silent guardian; a watchful protector. A dark knight.”
Those words, uttered by Jim Gordon in The Dark Knight, provide the dramatic backdrop for Bruce Wayne's Batman. The same can be said for Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen, the soft-spoken Finn who embodied the legendary cape crusader and earned the nickname “The Vatman.”
Listed at a mere 5-10 and 180 pounds, Vatanen paced Ducks defensemen in goals, scoring and shots on net. He finished tied for third among league rearguards in power-play goals (7) and finished tops among all Anaheim skaters in power-play points (17).
Among Anaheim defensemen with at least 30 games played, Vatanen finished first in USAT (the difference in unblocked shot attempts for and unblocked shot attempts against), posting a plus-85 at even strength. He finished second to Hampus Lindholm with a plus-64 SAT (the difference in total shot attempts for and total shot attempts against) despite playing in 11 fewer games. His assists/60 also increased, moving to a career-high 0.82 in a season where he set a personal best in helpers (25).
His offensive skill isn’t the only thing in his utility belt.
Vatanen paced Anaheim defensemen in blocked shots (123) and finished with the best SAT-against rating among defensemen (52.75) at even strength during the regular season. This while averaging over 21 minutes a night.
Like his masked counterpart, Vatanen seemed to save the dramatics for the biggest moments of the season.
There was his shootout game-winning goal – on his first ever attempt – to cap the come-from-behind win on Teemu Tribute Night. His game-tying tally in the third period of a game against the Los Angeles Kings in January guaranteed a point – with the win coming in a shootout.
With the atmosphere inside Honda Center electric to kick off the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was Vatanen who scored before the Ducks postseason was two minutes old, sending the orange-clad faithful into a frenzy.
He finished the postseason with 11 points and, just as he did during the regular season, sat among the top defensemen in scoring. He also led the Ducks in blocked shots (37) and finished tied for third in takeaways. He tied a club record for goals by a defenseman in the First Round against the Winnipeg Jets, collecting two in the opening round sweep.
He’s not the most demonstrative player, but like the Dark Knight himself, Vatanen seems to be there when the team needs him most. A watchful protector among the blueline; looking to eliminate enemies one slapshot (or blocked shot) at a time.
Vatanen’s pulled out all the stops for a game-tying goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in a December matchup at Honda Center. With the Ducks trailing by one, the Finnish defenseman grabbed a loose puck in the slot, deftly slaloming through four Flyers. He let go a chip shot from in tight, forcing Steve Mason to make a difficult stop.
Patrick Maroon hustled behind the net, banking the loose puck to a wide open Vatanen. Before Mason could react, Vatanen neatly tucked it inside the post for the goal.