Frank Corrado – Wikicommons
Defenseman Frank Corrado was a pleasant surprise after he was called up to the NHL late in the 2013 regular season. In three games with Vancouver, Corrado averaged over nineteen minutes of ice time per contest. And in the four game sweep against the San Jose Sharks, he averaged 12:19 per game.
Let’s assume, for a second, that Corrado comes to town this fall and has a strong training camp. What should the Canucks do with him? Do they play him 13-15 minutes per night as a bottom pairing defenseman? Do they try and find more ice time for him? Is he used as the seventh defenseman? Or do they send him down to Utica to play as a number one defenseman in all situations?
John Tortorella has shown in the past that he is unafraid to give significant responsibilities to young defensemen. Michael Del Zotto was 19 when he debuted with the Rangers. Marc Staal was 21. Ryan McDonagh was 22. Corrado turned 20 this past March, but he already plays the game with a lot of confidence, polish and patience.
Keeping Corrado in the NHL
I wouldn’t advocate this route unless Corrado proves himself to be an everyday defenseman. Having him play every second or third game as the seventh defenseman would be suboptimal for his development.
Corrado makes $600,000 on his current deal, and that will definitely play into his favour when he is competing for ice time against defensemen who make more money (Yanick Weber is making slightly more at $650,000, and the Canucks will likely bring in another veteran before camp begins).
However, if Corrado comes into camp and earns a spot as one of the club’s best six defensemen, I think you have to keep him around. I really liked what I saw last year (granted, it was a really small sample size and he wasn’t out against tough competition) – he was physical, made hard and accurate outlet passes, and made competent defensive reads.
Corrado first arrived on the scene in 2011 at the Young Stars tournament. He was picked a few months before in the fifth round, and entered the summer with minimal expectations from the organization. He was very impressive against top prospects from several other NHL teams, and he even earned a chance to play in the preseason with the Canucks at the age of 18.
If Corrado had been selected in round one or two, I’m not sure we would be having as much of a debate about whether to play him in the NHL as a 20-year-old or to let him develop in the AHL a while longer.
NHL organizations are not all the same with how they choose to develop players. Detroit kept top prospect defenseman Brendan Smith in the AHL for three full seasons before letting him play regular minutes in the NHL, and Smith was a highly-touted prospect and dominated the NCAA. They did the same with Jakub Kindl, and will likely continue to do the same with Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet (although Danny DeKeyser may buck the trend a bit).
There have been several defensemen to play in the NHL as teenagers in recent years. In hindsight, it is easy to say that a few of them may have been rushed a bit (Luke Schenn and Cam Fowler, to name two). But that is also a really easy narrative to use if a young player struggles. Fowler had a very impressive rookie season but seemed to hit a wall after, and Schenn was very good for the Flyers last year after being traded out of Toronto. There are a lot of contextual circumstances at play in both of their situations.
St. Louis was very patient with Alex Pietrangelo, and they were rewarded. But then you could make the argument that Corrado is more polished (and, of course, has significantly less upside) than Pietrangelo was/did at the same age. PK Subban played and dominated one year in the AHL before making his NHL debut at the age of 21.
It took TJ Brodie three years after getting drafted to become an NHL regular in Calgary. Justin Faulk was solid as a 19-year-old in Carolina in 2011-12, and very good as a 20-year-old this past season. He has more talent than Corrado, but is a similar defenseman in terms of overall style (two-way with a defensive focus) and size (6-0, 200 pounds). Burnaby native Karl Alzner split his 20-year-old season between the AHL (48 games) and NHL (30 games).
Playing a 20-year-old defenseman in the NHL is a rarity, but it can be done and has been done in recent years.
Under Rick Bowness, the Canucks defensive group played pretty balanced minutes. No defenseman saw more than 24-25 minutes a night, and no defenseman saw less than 14-15 minutes a night (typically). However, John Tortorella tends to allocate his ice time differently. He will likely lean a bit more on Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison, and a bit less on the bottom pairing defensemen. That is, depending on how he adjusts to coaching a Western team with a heavier travel burden…
And we don’t even know how the pairings are going to shake out just yet.
It’s not easy to answer the question of where Corrado would be best suited to play in 2013-14. He could end up averaging 15-16 minutes a night under Tortorella, learning the ropes and making a positive contribution. However, if his role with Vancouver is any smaller than that, the team would probably be best to let him play 25+ minutes a night with Utica.
Someone has to be down there, right?
Previously from Jeff (@anguscertified):
- An Early Look at Opening Night: Defensemen and Forwards
- Does Jannik Hansen have Top-Six Ability?