April 30 2013 05:17PM
Given the lines the Canucks have been running at practice ahead of Wednesday's game one, there's a strong chance that Andrew Alberts and Frank Corrado will make up Vancouver's third pairing on Wednesday night.
This means that Keith Ballard is again on the outside looking in and (more importantly) Chris Tanev is still out of the lineup injured.
The Alberts vs Ballard debate has been had before, so let's look to the side of that, where we see that Corrado is being leaned on to play a role that may be small but will be crucial.
Cam Charron wrote about Corrado ahead of his NHL debut last week vs Chicago
Again, Corrado is many things. He is at this point the beacon of shining hope that will steady the Canucks' defensive depth prior to the end of the season. He's a smart player with Tanev-like instincts [prospect profile here], as in he rarely makes bad reads. He also has a shot. That's at the OHL-level however. Transitioning to the pro-level is tough enough without it being the Chicago Blackhawks every night. Corrado, on the second pairing, won't get the chance to to be eased into NHL competition against the Kevin Porters and Kyle Wellwoods of the world. Last home game against Chicago, the Canucks' then-second pairing of Garrison and Bieksa played mostly against Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and David Bolland
Corrado's game wasn't the only thing written about after the contest. The game against Chicago was seen by many as the team's finest performance of the season so there were lots of story-lines, but Corrado's performance was notable. Playing alongside Alex Edler on the team's second pairing, Corrado was on ice for just one chance against in 14.9 minutes of even-strength ice time. Even better - more than half of that time Corrado found himself matched against Patrick Kane who is pretty good at hockey. Corrado held his own in his debut and earned praise for doing so. Sure it helped that he only started twice in the defensive zone - and it was an impressive all-around team performance by the Canucks - but the rookie defenceman showed well on the big stage.
In his second game, Corrado was again paired with Edler. The pair started 7 times in their own zone, but made 20 outside the zone. Corrado played nearly 20 minutes of even-strength TOI in that second contest and mostly held his own, going 2-5 on chances. Thom Drance's post-game comments are instructive:
In his second NHL game Frank Corrado played over twenty minutes of hockey with the vast majority of those minutes coming at even-strength. Corrado's matchups appear to have been carefully managed with the majority of his ice-time coming against the Nick Bonino line, but when you play twenty minutes at even-strength there's only so much "protection" you can get from your coaches. So in addition to battling the bottom end of Anaheim's roster, Corrado also spent nearly four minutes matched up against Perry's group, and over five minutes matched up against the Cogliano line. He recieved some territorial protection too and started twelve shifts in the offensive end, and despite the relatively soft competition and deployment, Corrado finished slightly under-water by the chance and possession data. Basically Frank Corrado was asked to take a big bite out of Thursday night's contest, and it proved to be a bit more than he was able to competently chew. That said he showed some flashes and in no way looked out of place despite logging top-pairing minutes against NHL caliber players.
Against Edmonton, in the worst end-of-season exhibition game seen in years, Corrado saw an equal dose of everyone, while paired mostly with Alberts. He played a similar amount as the Chicago game, but made 7 starts in his own zone. He was 1-4 in chances for/against; a not-terrible number in a game where the Canucks lost interest in the game in the third period, while also having dressed a far-from-prime lineup.
So what do we take from three games?
First of all, you could do a lot worse than Frank Corrado. Corrado has played somewhat protected minutes, but he's handled them and shown the sort of reliability you look for in an NHL defenseman.
Also, consider the alternatives. Cam Barker has shown why he's the eighth defenceman: he's needed plenty of protection to be anything rivaling useful. His main value has been that he can skate and he's affordable. Keith Ballard, as said above, we know plenty about. He's a useful dman, but he does take penalties and he's prone to gaffes. Andrew Alberts isn't quick, but he doesn't mess up that much and he generally gets the puck out.
So, of these four, pick two. Picking Corrado isn't a terrible idea, really. He's shown himself - in a limited look - to be no worse than the alternatives in all likelihood. He's also barely 20. His upside is massive and most rate him as among the best defencemen in the CHL this past season.
The minutes he will be handed on the third pairing will be less than what he's seen so far. But what they lack in volume they won't lack in intensity as the Sharks have a fine set of forwards. On Wednesday, if he does in fact make it into the lineup, Corrado is likely to lineup mostly opposite Tim Kennedy, James Sheppard, Scott Gomez and Adam Burish and Andrew Desjardins. Corrado shouldn't struggle too much against this group, but it will be physical.
Heading into the postseason Frank Corrado is taking on some of the Tanev role, but Tanev has done such a masterful job this season, that Corrado won't be replacing him in the sense that Tanev won't be missed. He will be. But I'm pretty confident that Corrado won't be a problem for the Canucks, either. Replacing depth pieces, especially along the blueline, is as much about finding players that won't hurt you as it is about finding players that can more actively help. Expect the former, but maybe we'll see the latter from Corrado too.