Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
The last two weeks were a magical experience. Okay, maybe that’s pushing it; they were just hockey games, most of which the Toronto Marlies lost. But Frank Corrado played in all seven games he was available to play in with them, after being sent down for a conditioning stint to get back into game rhythm. They’re over now though, and as of this morning, he was practicing with the Leafs again.
Frank Corrado is back with the Leafs. #tmltalk
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) January 16, 2017
The question now, though, is when he’ll get his next chance to play. In that two weeks, Toronto’s defence had a clean bill of health, with nobody missing time, or even taking a minute or two on the bench to recover from a stinger. So he won’t get back into the lineup in the most direct way.
My mission statement throughout the year, as a believer in what Corrado could bring, has been to simply slot him in where Roman Polak currently is. But even then, the Leafs went 3-1-1 in that stretch, and, while they were sheltered, the Hunwick-Polak had positive underlying numbers to the point where they kept up with Jake Gardiner and Connor Carrick in almost every shot and goal-based metric. Would I expect that to continue? Probably not, they’ve shown little to no track record of being able to tilt the ice for an extended period of time. But this is probably the worst week of the year for Corrado to point and say “I can better”.
He did, however, do quite well with his Marlies tour of duty.
|TOR @ MB||2017-01-03||0||0||0||0||5||2||Valiev|
|TOR @ MB||2017-01-04||0||0||0||0||3||0||Valiev|
|RCH @ TOR||2017-01-07||0||0||0||1||4||0||Dermott|
|RCH @ TOR||2017-01-08||0||0||0||-1||1||0||Dermott|
|WBS @ TOR||2017-01-11||0||1||1||0||3||0||Campbell|
|TOR @ SYR||2017-01-13||0||2||2||1||0||2||Dermott|
|RCH @ TOR||2017-01-14||0||0||0||1||1||2||Campbell|
In total, the 23-year-old put up three assists, 17 shots on goal, six penalty minutes, and a +2 rating over the course of his conditioning stint, playing with three different defensive partners over that stretch. His production here should be put into context a little; all three of his assists came as part of Tony Cameranesi’s three goals in two games, and in every case, the assists came from Corrado throwing the puck behind the net and it being recovered.
At the same time, few on the Marlies are generating any semblance of even strength offence to begin with, so the fact he was involved all is a small victory.
“I thought he was really good early,” said Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe of his stint, while stressing that there was a dip over time. “I thought he showed signs of fatigue and just not being the same player that he was in the early stages. His competition also increased as the games went, and the schedule obviously is what it is and it wears on players. He led our team in ice time in virtually every game he played, and for a guy who hasn’t played I’m sure that was a factor.”
“Early on he was really good, outstanding, a real standout on the ice. I thought he was a little more human and blended in amongst the group for the remainder of the games.”
Keefe’s assessment was similar to my own initial thoughts. There were certain moments where Corrado looked head and shoulders above everybody else on the ice; he looked particular apt at suffocating opposing rushes, even or odd man. He did get himself caught on occasion, though, particularly when trying to fight off attempted screens in the Syracuse game. But again, we’re talking about a player who went from not playing in game situations for months, to hopping onto a not-entirely-familiar team midway through the year and being their Time-on-Ice leader in a 7 game in 12-day stretch. That’s throwing a player to the wolves if I’ve ever seen it, and that’s probably exactly what he needed.
Personally speaking, I appreciated getting to see a couple of live games of his these past few weeks, if only because it made some of his positives and negatives a bit more apparent. You gain an appreciation for how aggressive he can be on closing gaps, while also realizing that he might be one of the most awkward looking skaters in the organization; while it works, he always looks like he’s dragging along and has a perpetually concerned look on his face. It kind of makes you wonder if some of the knock against him is simply a “he plays weird” subconscious bias. Now, I can’t imagine that this organization would keep a player out because he looks a little different, but some of the fan perception could come from there.
With all of this said, Corrado was just happy to play. “Being involved in all the action, the battles, being a hockey player. It’s a nice feeling to be involved in,” Corrado said on January 11th after facing first-overall Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. “Especially close games like that, that’s kinda what you look forward to.”
“I think what happens, especially as a defenceman,” Corrado said when asked about the adjustment curve “If you watch the best defencemen around the world, they have all these subtleties that are tough to explain, they can’t even explain them. They just do them. That’s one thing that you need to build a little bit. The more you get into a groove, the more you can build those things. It’s tough to explain, but those are just kind of things that happen in the middle a game that you don’t even realize, but you just do them.”
We’ll see how long it takes for him to get back into the Leafs lineup with regularity, if it happens at all, but having a good few weeks and getting back into game shape has likely been a huge stepping stone towards that.