Frank’s for the memories — and blue line
It’s difficult to forget Corrado’s potential when molding a winner. His new coaches likely won’t
VANCOUVER — In the summer after his 20th birthday, there were a lot of things Frankie Corrado probably wanted to do.
The guitarist could have cobbled together a band and VW bus and gone touring. Or he could have surfed in Hawaii or backpacked around Europe or simply enjoyed being young and free and hung out with other cool kids in Toronto.
Instead, Corrado briefly visited Kitchener and Sudbury to see the families who had billeted him in junior hockey. Pretty much the rest of his wild summer was spent in the gym or at the rink.
“It was a pretty stiff schedule,” Corrado said this week. “Especially at my stage and where I am now, I can’t miss any (training) days in the summer. The big thing for me was to put on some weight and get a little stronger. That comes with time. You can’t do it all in one summer.”
Corrado tried. The 6-foot-2 defenceman arrived at the Vancouver Canucks’ training camp at 200 pounds after finishing last season – improbably, it was in the National Hockey League – at 188.
“It’s too early to tell; it’s all about getting stronger,” he said. “The extra weight looks good on the numbers sheet, but if you’re five per cent or 10 per cent stronger, that’s what really matters.”
It’s far more difficult to quantify Corrado’s maturity, but from here it looks off-the-charts high on and off the ice with the Canucks.
He has been partnered with Vancouver’s best defenceman, Dan Hamhuis, since training camp began and looks even more comfortable among NHL players than he did last spring, when Corrado was fast-tracked to the Canucks’ lineup only 2½ weeks after his Ontario Hockey League season ended in April.
Corrado, who has soared since the Canucks selected him 150th in the 2011 entry draft, played three NHL regular-season games and four more in the playoffs as Vancouver burned a year on the blueliner’s contract rather than remove him from the lineup.
Even after the team signed free agent Yannick Weber in July for depth on defence, then eventually re-signed veteran Andrew Alberts, Corrado could still make this team.
If he maintains his current trajectory for another week, the question isn’t whether Corrado plays for the Canucks this season but how much he plays.
He is inexpensive ($599,000 Canuck salary) and portable, and the team could shuttle him waiver-free between the NHL and the American Hockey League, even if the transaction is complicated by the location of the Canucks’ farm team in Utica, which Rand McNally says is somewhere in New York State.
Or Canucks coach John Tortorella may simply keep his best 22 or 23 players, which would include Corrado.
After scraping their toupees on the salary-cap ceiling the last few years, the Canucks have more than $2-million of breathing room this season and can accommodate eight defencemen on the payroll.
One of the best Canucks in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks, Corrado is showing now, as he did last spring, that he’s capable of playing in the NHL.
“I’m always learning,” Corrado said. “If I can take something away with me each time I’m here and then maybe I don’t play here right away and go down (to the AHL), I can say I learned here. When the time comes, I want to be ready. Whether it’s now or down the road, it doesn’t change anything. I come to the rink every day to learn and get better.
“But I feel like I belong at this level and hopefully that’s what my play will show. It’s all about familiarity. I’m familiar with the situations I see on the ice now. I can make plays and take the body and just play the game the right way.”
Corrado isn’t the only Canuck who thinks he belongs.
“He’s very composed out there,” Hamhuis said. “He skates well. He’s strong and can play against big players. He’s a good player. This doesn’t surprise me. Last year was the surprise. It was so impressive to see him play with the composure he did at that age, especially in those big playoff games. He’s got a long career ahead of him.”
Speaking before Wednesday’s pre-season game against the Edmonton Oilers, Tortorella warned against reading too much into the pairing of Corrado and Hamhuis.
But it’s hard to believe it’s coincidental the Canucks are asking their top defenceman to play with their best blue-line prospect.
It could be an opening-night pairing or simply an indication of the organization’s high regard for Corrado. Either way, it’s a good thing for him.
“He reminds me a lot of Chris Tanev,” veteran defenceman Kevin Bieksa said, referencing the steady 23-year-old who became a Canuck regular last season. “(Frankie) comes in here and is confident in his abilities. He’s a very good, respectful kid, good with the veterans, but he is confident in his abilities and goes out there and plays with confidence. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
“You see a lot of kids these days stepping in from junior and college and making an impact right away. It seems like the guys with the high maturity level are able to do that, and he’s very mature for his age.”
Is Corrado as quiet as Tanev or have people heard him actually speak?
“No, he talks a lot more than Tanev,” Bieksa said. “He’s a good kid — a good Ontario defenceman. There aren’t many of them around.”
The Canucks may soon have three. Like Corrado, Tanev is from Toronto. Bieksa is from Grimsby, Ont.
“You never want to take a demotion, so to speak,” Corrado said.
“You always want to play at the highest level. That’s what drives us as athletes. That’s what makes the sport itself so great. I understand the situation and understand I need to learn. But the athlete in me wants to stay here and compete at the highest level.”
The coach in me would let him.
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