Matt Corrente Gets His Opportunity in New Jersey at Expense of Mark Fraser

Yesterday's news of Brian Rolston's sports hernia was unfortunate for Rolston, but moving him to long term injured reserve allows the Devils to spend $5,062,500 over the salary cap until he returns.  Given that the Devils only played with 16 skaters last night in Buffalo (and won), that the Devils would call up a couple players from Albany was obvious.  

This morning, the Devils called up Jacob Josefson, Tim Sestito, and Matthew Corrente from the AHL affiliate, as reported by Tom Gulitti.   Personally, I'm surprised they called up two forwards who can play center just after signing Adam Mair.  The open roster spots are on the bottom two lines, so it's not like the Devils need experienced players per se; but I'm mystified that Vladimir Zharkov wasn't brought up.  He played 40 games largely in a depth role and did quite well at being quick, defensively responsible, and getting the puck into good situations for the Devils.  He would be ideal for an energy line, in my opinion.  Perhaps the Devils were more impressed with Josefson and Sestito early in Albany?

However, today's big news wasn't just the call ups alone. Mark Fraser is now out for 4-6 weeks with a fractured right hand.  This is a surprise, considering Fraser not only played last night but also fought Buffalo's Cody McCormick.  Here's a curious quote from Lou Lamoriello via Tom Gulitti:

"It was an injury that he had earlier, but I don’t think the fight helped it," Lamoriello said.

Lamoriello said Fraser’s right hand had been bothering him previously, "but not to the degree it bothered him last night. We don’t really know whether (the fight) aggravated it or he got hit. You don’t know when it’s warm out there."

Not only was it dumb that Fraser took himself off the ice for 5 minutes, a reason why defensemen really shouldn't fight.  Not only was it dumb that Fraser sat for 5 minutes on a Devils team already shorthanded on the bench.  But he punched someone repeatedly with a hand that was bothering him earlier.  Even if it had no effect on his fractured hand, I just shake my head when I think about it. 

So should Fraser.  Now Corrente has a fantastic opportunity to do what Fraser did last season - successfully make his case to be a defenseman for the New Jersey Devils.

Last season, Mike Mottau suffered a hip injury early in October that led to the Devils giving Mark Fraser a shot.  Fraser had a taste of the NHL prior to 2009-10, having played 7 games in the 2006-2007 season.  In 2009-10, Fraser stuck around for 61 games.  Jacques Lemaire protected him heavily, though.  Fraser's had the lowest quality of competition among regular Devils defensemen at 5-on-5, according to Behind the Net.  Plus, his average total ice time of the season was a mere 12:22.  He was clearly the #6 defenseman on the roster.  At least he was when he wasn't rotated out of some games later in the season when Anssi Salmela and Martin Skoula came to Newark.  

Still, Fraser wasn't demoted to Lowell at any point; and the Devils signed him to a 1 year, one-way contract for the NHL minimum salary of $500,000.  The one-way contract was a near-guarantee of being in New Jersey for another season. 

Now, he's hurt and the player New Jersey called up to replace Fraser, a physical defenseman, while injured is Matthew Corrente - a physical defenseman.   When Corrente was demoted prior to the start of the season, Lou had this to say, per this report from Gulitti:

"Matt is just a victim of numbers at this point and we want to really take a good look at the two offensive defensemen—Urbom and Taormina. That’s all. Nothing else. He had his best camp since he’s been here and he’s taken great steps. He’s very close."

I don't believe his call up was not just to prove that Lou's words were more than just words.   Corrente didn't get as much of a look in preseason as Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina; but it's clear the Devils remain high on the 2006 first rounder.   With Fraser out for at least a month, Corrente's going to have plenty of chances to prove he belongs.

It's not like Corrente will be asked to do too much.  In the four games he played this season, Fraser was on the ice for 12:47, 15:52, 16:42, and 11:31.  Those aren't big minutes, the average total puts him fifth among Devils defensemen.   While it's really early (too early?) to look at advanced numbers from Behind the Net, Fraser hasn't played against tough competition at even strength either.   Fraser's responsibilities haven't been so large that it would be too much of ask of Corrente. The only area I would be a bit concerned with would be the PK time, as Fraser has been on those units early this season. But John MacLean can either try Corrente out there or give it to another defender.

That's an additional factor that could be in Corrente's favor. John MacLean coached Corrente for most of last season in Lowell.  As with Taormina, MacLean knows what Corrente can and cannot do, so there's less worry for misusing his talents on the ice. 

To summarize: Corrente plays a similar style of hockey to Fraser, the head coach is familiar with his strengths and weaknesses, Lou thinks highly enough of him, and he's called up to replace a player who has been on the third pairing anyway.  Looking at the whole picture, I can't help but think this is a great opportunity for Corrente to do what Fraser did with protected minutes in 2009-10: become a regular defenseman in the NHL.   All of a result of an unfortunate injury to Mark Fraser.

Do you think Mattew Corrente will make the most of his opportunity?  Do you think Mark Fraser would be out of the picture if Corrente does well?  Please let me know what you think about the call ups and the Fraser injury in the comments.  Thanks to Tom for posting the news earlier; and thank you for reading.

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