by Alyssa Dombrowski || for NHL.com
In the realm of professional sports, where change is often the only constant, athletes are aware that they may find themselves on the trading block at any given time. But that didn’t prepare Matt Fraser for the news he received this past Fourth of July.
“I was actually golfing when I found out,” Fraser said. “My sister called, and I told her I was busy and would call her back. Two holes later, I had 10 missed calls and texts.”
The Dallas Stars had traded the 23-year-old prospect as part of a blockbuster deal that also sent Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow and Reilly Smith to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” said Fraser. “All of a sudden I’m finding a new place to live. Once the initial shock of the trade wears off, you realize what kind of a position you’re in.”
That position saw the 6-foot-2 forward, whose 70 goals over the previous two seasons with the Texas Stars were more than any other player in the American Hockey League, preparing for the 2013-14 season with an entirely new organization.
“Stepping into the dressing room when you’re the new guy is always going to be a little awkward and you’re going to be a bit quiet at first,” said Fraser. “But the players understand that there will be new guys every year and that it’s important for them to feel like they’re a part of the team as quickly as they can.”
Fraser skated with Boston in training camp before being assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, where head coach Bruce Cassidy picked up where his last team left off.
“He’s gotten very good coaching in Texas, so we’re just trying to build off of that,” Cassidy said. “In practice, we’re trying to get him comfortable with certain linemates, like a lot of our group. It’s about finding the right fit for him.”
Fraser’s role with his new club appears to be taking shape. He scored the first AHL goal of the 2013-14 season and later added an assist in Providence’s 4-3 overtime win at St. John’s on opening night, Oct. 4.
“With hockey players, a lot of us are the same [personality-wise],” said Fraser of his connection to his new teammates. “Once you get a couple days and a few skates under your belt, you’re right back in the swing of things. It’s been a pretty easy transition and the guys in both Boston and Providence have welcomed me with open arms.”
In just two years as a pro, Fraser’s prolific scoring capabilities have made him a unique offensive weapon. He scored 37 goals as a rookie in 2011-12 and came back with 33 tallies in 2012-13 – ranking second each year only to league MVPs Cory Conacher and Tyler Johnson – and was chosen to play in the AHL All-Star Classic in both seasons. Fraser was also named a Second Team AHL All-Star at left wing after last year.
“He’s got an unbelievable release,” said Cassidy on what’s impressed him most about Fraser so far. “I use the word quiet to describe it because it looks so smooth and natural and the puck just comes off his stick so fast. With some one-timers you can hear them all over the rink, but he’s got the ability to just sweep the puck somehow.”
Fraser played in one NHL game in 2011-12 and 12 games last season, and has participated in NHL training camps for both the Stars and Bruins – tenures that have granted him the chance to play with some of today’s biggest names in hockey.
“As a young guy like myself on the ice with people like [Jaromir] Jagr and [Milan] Lucic, you get to see how hard they work, how much they know what they’re doing and how quick of a pace they’re doing it at,” said Fraser. “I think that’s a great thing to model your game after.”
Fraser’s desire to learn reflects his eagerness to become a stronger all-around player, according to his coach.
“We all know he can score. He’s proven that,” said Cassidy. “He has to round out his game without losing what he does best. Bringing the physical part and playing with more of an edge – those are some things he’s admitted he’d like to bring to the table.”
Cassidy has zero doubts that, given the opportunity, Fraser can be successful in the NHL this season and beyond.
“If he’s going to crack Boston’s lineup, which is very deep, he will have to prove he has all the parts to do what it takes. If he gets in the position, I have no doubt he could be a scorer in the NHL.”
The Red Deer, Alta., native, who notched his first NHL goal with the Stars on Feb. 25, 2013, relishes any opportunity to improve his game.
“We play this game to be the best – whether it’s one game, a practice, or a whole season [in the NHL], whenever you step on the ice, you always feel like you’re learning something,” said Fraser. “If you’re not, then you’re not doing something right.”
Fraser’s undeterred mentality has not gone unnoticed by his new coach.
“I think he’s challenging himself,” said Cassidy. “I’ve seen him come to the bench in certain situations where he’s recognized the play could have turned out better because of something he could improve on.”
“Now it’s about building the rest of these things into his game, and he recognizes that as much as anybody. As a coach, you don’t have to sell a player on something he truly believes in.”
He may be playing in a new city, but Fraser’s principles remain unwavering.
“Wherever I am, I want to be an impact player,” said Fraser. “That’s been my mantra from day one since I’ve been playing in the pros. As long as I hold onto that, I think it will keep me [going] in the right direction.”