PENTICTON — After the Canucks “young stars” skated for more than an hour Wednesday, ice shavings piled up in the corners of the South Okanagan Event Centre arena.
They looked like piles of foam.
Fitting, because a summer of GM Mike Gillis and new coach John Tortorella stressing their need for “young players” like it was an essential food group has left these guys frothing for two months.
“I heard it,” said Brendan Gaunce said. “There were a lot of people telling me about what (Tortorella) was saying in his press conferences.
“It’s a great chance we have.”
It sure is.
There were 27 players wearing Canucks jerseys on the ice Wednesday. Most will be playing in the Young Stars Classic tournament which begins Thursday.
Some have the three qualities the Canucks are desperate for this season. Those would be cheap, young and promising.
At 20-years-old, Frankie Corrado hits all three out of the park. Oh, and he’s a right-handed defenceman. You can add grounded, and heavier too. After an offseason of conditioning the 6-foot-2 blueliner has his frame up over 200 pounds. He played last year at about 188 pounds.
His dreams this year are big. They should be. He started last season a relatively unknown fifth-round draft pick. He ended it averaging 12 minutes a game for the Canucks in the playoffs two months after he turned 20.
Somehow, he managed to follow Chris Tanev’s surprising, and rather exceptional, transition from relative obscurity to the Canucks’ top-six.
“I know Chris really well,” Corrado said. “I know his story really well. I can relate. I think we’re similar guys and similar players.
“It’s nice to have a guy who has been through what I’m going through recently. He can show me the ropes a little bit.”
Corrado played all four of those frustrating postseason games against the San Jose Sharks. The third burned the first year of his three-year entry-level contract because it was his sixth NHL game of the year.
Looking back at the sweep, flushing a year of controlled salary so Corrado could play a couple of playoff games ahead of Keith Ballard sure seems like a mistake.
But the faith the team showed in Corrado sent a clear and direct message to the player.
“It was a compliment. You don’t always need to hear things in words, you see it in actions, like ice time,” Corrado said. “To see something like that happen, it was a good sign to me.
“Those are little things you see in the background.”
Corrado is not competing with any defencemen on his own team here in Penticton. His competition won’t begin until main training camp begins on Sept. 11. Then, he will be up against Andrew Alberts and Yannick Weber. But his biggest obstacle could be the question of whether his overall development would be helped most by a full year in the AHL, rather than playing as a No. 6 defenceman in the NHL.
If that is what’s decided, you won’t be seeing him shedding tears.
“I’m 20-years-old, if it doesn’t happen, I’ll go to play for Utica and play hard,” he said. “There is so much time for me. I have time to make a name for myself in the NHL.
“The quicker I can get there, the nicer it would be. But if I need to go get seasoning and play in pressure situations without the big time, big arena pressures, then that’s what I’ll do.”
But just like Gaunce, Corrado has followed everything Tortorella said this summer about wanting young players to push for roster spots.
“It’s great to hear, you just have to show you’re hungry for it,” Corrado said. “I think when he says ‘young players’ he wants guys who are really hungry for it.
“If young guys are hungry and push for it, the older guys have to push harder. It’s sort of a domino effect. I see exactly what he means.
“I know he’s fair. You’ll get what you put it. If you put in a good effort, he’ll see it and you’ll be rewarded.”
Effort is one of those murky hockey terms you’re going to hear a lot from Tortorella.
Not sure how he defines it, but Corrado’s season last year should qualify. There was that stretch in December when Corrado played nine games in 11 days.
He was just fine, by the way. He scored a goal in the ninth.
There was the end of the season, when Corrado found himself playing in the NHL playoffs. Then, he was closing in on 100 games for the season, including some Hockey Canada scrimmages.
He was at his best at the end, too.
“At that point of the season, I was playing with a ton of confidence,” he said. “I had played so many games, and played so well.
“That’s the big thing for me now. How do I get that confidence back? It’s been a whole summer away from playing games. The quicker I can pick up the swagger I had, the quicker I get back to that level.
“I feel like it’s something I can do.”
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