Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
“This is boring. Hockey is dead.” I said with a defeated tone in my voice, after watching Team Canada cruise to a semi-final victory during the World Cup of Hockey, after realizing that Mike Babcock with talented players is so brilliant that the game becomes too simple to enjoy. “Always believe in hockey, Jeff!” exclaimed resident TLN video-shouter and podcaster Steve ‘Dangle’ Glynn from the other side of the press box.
My counter-response was out of left field but began a movement. “I believe in Frank Corrado”.
Since then, those off-hand words have been repeated many times in meme-like fashion on Twitter, as I attempt to at least begin moving the needle on the young man’s perception. But make no mistake, this is no joke. Frank Corrado is a good hockey player and he’s going to be a good Leafs defenceman this year.
Why You Don’t Believe In Frank Corrado
Given the cliff notes on how Corrado got to where he is at the moment, I’m not particularly shocked that expectations are low for him.
- He was a fifth-round pick, and that was also five years ago.
- He was a waiver claim, which means that a team had to reject him, and that team that rejected him was the Vancouver Canucks, who were also bad.
- The Leafs decided to healthy scratch him for the first ten weeks of his tenure. Could he really be that good if that were the case?
- Corrado’s one-year, $600,000 contract isn’t particularly reflective of a superstar talent.
- Also not reflective of being a top notch player: only playing 67 career NHL games by the age of 23.
All of these are fair reasons to not believe in the player. Experience is much-loved, and nobody trusts the reject, especially when they don’t immediately turn the tide. But there’s some reason to believe that Corrado could be the outlier here.
Why You Should Believe In Frank Corrado
Let’s address the situation that led to him joining the Leafs to begin with. Corrado was cut by the Canucks after just one preseason game last season and promptly placed on waivers. The Leafs didn’t hesitate to claim him as their own, but they did hesitate to play him.
Should the Canucks cutting him be seen as a negative on Frank’s part? I don’t think so. If you take a look at our friends over at Canucks Army, they don’t think so either. We (I was CA’s editor at this time last year) ranked Corrado as the 6th best prospect in Vancouver’s pool heading into the start of the season, and many believed that he could’ve fought for a top-four spot in that lineup. But, much like Leafs fans are infatuated with their incoming wave of new, young roster players, the Canucks had a similar youth movement going on.
It just so happens that theirs involved players that weren’t on the same tier, and more importantly, players that were competing against Corrado. Ben Hutton had a spectacular camp well ahead of his development schedule and earned himself an NHL job. The Canucks were so sure of him, and so happy with the fan excitement that was brewing that, rather than sending him down for even a few days while waiting to place Chris Higgins on Long-Term Injured Reserve, they decided that Corrado was now the old and busted and could be risked instead. The rest was history.
Even today, Canucks fans are arguing about how hilariously short-signed that was. Hutton was good enough for a rookie, perhaps better than Corrado would have been, but Vancouver’s d-core, on the whole, struggled throughout the year and eventually turned into “Chris Tanev prays while everyone spins in circles”, as expected. The group isn’t much better this year, and Vancouver likely would’ve been better off still having him as an option than trading one of their best prospects for Erik Gudbranson, which is a thing I still can’t believe they did.
Back to the Leafs’ end of the bargain, though. Something that wasn’t super well known was that Corrado was damaged goods at the start of the year. During his Calder Cup playoff run with the Utica Comets the season prior, Corrado separated his shoulder in the first round and broke his hand in the second. He was sat out sporadically, but rather than getting a head start on healing, he was left on call and even played through them.
By the time he was able to start moving his upper body in a particularly active way, training camp had come, and his body wasn’t fully conditioned. It’s no surprise he wasn’t dominant in camp as a result, and the Leafs were quick to figure that out. What we knew as ten weeks of the Leafs holding on to a free asset unfairly and a conditioning stint that made no sense was, well… an extended offseason and training camp and an actual conditioning stint. “It was easier (in Toronto) because there was a plan. I knew they had a plan for me,” said Corrado to the Vancouver Province in February. “Knowing that there was a group that had a plan for me, made things easier. Keep getting stronger, they said. The time off, I got a lot of time to work out and that helped because I missed the time in the summer.”
That leads us to the half season we know; Corrado’s biggest single-year sniff at the NHL to date. He picked up 6 points in 39 games; hardly impressive, but his best effort yet in a lot of ways, and when given the context of a late start to the season with a roster that you don’t know, it doesn’t seem too bad.
It gets more impressive when you dive in a little deeper. While he barely misses the 500 minute cutoff with 496 minutes of even strength time, an extra few minutes of doing what he was doing would have made him one of just 48 NHL defencemen last year to put up a relative CF% of over 2%; more impressive when you consider that his arrival was at around the same time as the Leafs really began to start driving play against their opponents, perhaps in part because of him. Toronto gave up 4.33 fewer shot attempts per 60 minutes with him on the ice than without, and took slightly more of them.
Individually, he started putting pucks towards the net more frequently than he has in previous years, and while not many went into the back of it, he was still an upgrade in that regard over players like Stuart Percy and Scott Harrington, who originally “took his place” as players who got looks while he was recovering.
Corrado also appeared to make most of his partners better, which isn’t overly shocking when you consider that the Leafs really only had Roman Polak as a right-handed shot before he and Connor Carrick came in and started playing regular minutes. In particular, he and Martin Marincin dominated in an admittedly short 52-minute sample, getting 66.7% of the goals and putting up an obscene 60.9% of the attempted shots. Corrado was also a 52% player when playing with Rinat Valiev, and brought Morgan Rielly to a 51% player with him from 49.8% without him.
A More Reasonable Expectation
Obviously, all the sample’s on Corrado’s stint in Toronto so far are on the smaller side, so it’s difficult to come in with a hard conclusion. But there’s a lot of reason for optimism, given that the Vaughan native is driving play and getting more involved in the action than he had in his Canucks tenure.
Most importantly, he comes into this season completely healthy and with an awareness of his teammates, neither of which were qualities he had going into last year. Thanks to the limited ice time, he’ll also have a lower expectation from outsiders, certainly far from the high hopes that people in Vancouver had a year ago.
But perhaps its too low. Despite his success last year, and despite the solid play he’s provided this preseason (with an exclamation point on a +5, three assist night against the Sabres a few days back), many have him as a player who will once again be placed on waivers to make room for Polak, who was brought back into the organization this summer.
I’m not so sure that I see that happening. While Polak is the type of veteran player that Mike Babcock loves, Corrado is plenty capable of putting his body on the line if he needs to, has a similar ability to get an initial shot off from the perimeter, and is more or less the same size while sharing the same handedness. Corrado is more mobile and is typically able to suffocate opposing forwards’ options before they get the opportunity to execute, which might be more valuable qualities.
It would be a real shame to see Corrado once again get caught in the numbers game; all signs point to him being NHL ready, and at the age of 23, this is the exact now-or-never window where he needs to begin his full-time transition. Given the depth chart, there’s also a very real chance that he could end up with a player like Marincin or Rielly again, and given the success he’s had with them so far, that would likely benefit the team.
Ultimately, this is a player with good physical traits and one that’s provided some reasons for tangible optimism despite coming out of a rough situation. With his NHL future in the hands of the team that he grew up as a fan of, you also know that he’ll remain determined to improve and grow with this similarly aged group.
He might not become a Norris winner, but with all things considered, why wouldn’t you want to believe in him?