After the loss of Paul Martin, one of the needs of the New Jersey Devils' defensive corps has been an additional puck moving defenseman. Opinions expressed by John Fischer, Tom Gulitti and even Patrick Elias have all stated this and I have to concur. Currently, the Devils only have Andy Greene to fill that role and to a lesser degree Henrik Tallinder and Anssi Salmela. At this point, unless there is a trade or free agent acquisition the Devils will go into the season with only one real offensive defenseman. In addition to the current free agent and trade market they can also wait and look for someone via the trade market at the trading deadline or look for someone within the organization. Looking at the recent prospect camp there are certainly a few candidates out there. Names like Tyler Eckford, Alexander Urbom and Matthew Corrente jump out at you. One name that Devils fans have gotten to know recently is the name of Matthew Taormina.
So what do we know about Taormina? Not much, really. You should definitely check out his page at Hockey's Future to get their scouting report on him. Most information or postings I have seen on him have focused on his point production and shot total and it has admittedly got them excited that the Devils have found another solid defenseman that the rest of the league passed on similar to Johnny Oduya and Brian Rafalski. 50 points from a defenseman from the Devil's AHL squad? Judging by his point production alone one would think he would be listed in the top 10 of the prospect list on Hockey's Future. Instead he is listed in the 'other notables' section which is listed after the top 19 prospects in the system are shown. However, Hockey's Future has this to say about him in their post-season review of the Devils AHL team:
Taormina consistently showed the ability to lead the rush up the ice, showcasing his good mobility and puckhandling skills
Sounds good right? Could Taormina be the next Rafalski, showing up out of nowhere to have a huge impact on the blue line? After the jump I will look at his past to see what he accomplished and what type of impact, if any, he could have on the team.
After an impressive NAHL Junior Season in 2004-2005 which saw him win two awards (NAHL Rookie of the Year and All NAHL Second Team), Taormina spent his NCAA ice hockey career playing for the Providence Friars. Taormina, played all four years for the Friars and accumulated the following stats:
Possibly because the Friars had poor records in Taormina's career -with only one winning season in 2005-2006 and averaging just over 10 wins in the following three years-it would seem that he had a disappointing collegiate career. Taking into account some other statistics from his two final years with the team I think we can see that relative to his team he was one of their more productive players.
2007-2008 was probably Taormina's best collegiate year. He was second on the team in points, fourth on the team with shots at 92 and contributed 3 goals and 7 assists on the power play. He also led the team in plus/minus at a +10. Taormina also shared the Providence Lou Lamoriello Team MVP Award.
In 2008-2009 he only accumulated 20 total points, which was good for third on the team, and he ended up with 69 shots which also placed him third on the team. He also contributed 7 of his 15 assists on the power play. His statistics were not as impressive as his previous year, and that was probably a contributing reason as to why he wasn't offered a two way deal by an NHL squad and signed a tryout deal with the AHL's Binghamton Senators.
He performed admirably for the Senators' AHL team posting 2 goals and 3 assists in only 11 games, making the immediate jump right from college to the AHL. Despite his initial impact his tryout didn't show the Senators enough as he was not offered a contract for the following year. He was then approached by the Devils and signed a minor league deal with the club last summer.
Considering the Lamoriello connection to the school it makes logical sense for an undrafted player from Providence (with some potential) to land with the Devils in some capacity. I can't be sure if Lamoriello expected this, but after his 10 goals and 40 assists last year the Devils certainly found a huge asset for the AHL squad and possibly the NHL team as well.
To put these numbers into perspective, in 75 games with Lowell he had 10 goals. In 141 games in college he had 20 goals. He also had a total of 45 assists in college. What is the big difference? PP points. Taormina had 8 goals and 26 assists on the power play alone. That's 80% of his goals and 65% of his assists. In his college career he had a total of 5 goals and 20 assists on the power play which accounted for 25% of his goals and 38% of his overall production in college.
|2009-2010 Lowell Production||10||40||50|
Why the sudden offensive outburst? From just looking at the numbers, and not having time on ice, advanced statistics or a detailed scouting report I will hazard two guesses.
1. He played a specific role in Lowell that played to his strengths. At 5'9 and 185 pounds Taormina compares favorably in stature and skill to current NHLer Marc-Andre Bergerson. Bergeron, a power play specialist/3rd pairing defenseman who actually plays a number of minutes as a 4th line player has had a productive career as a power play specialist. Taormina is not as physical as MAB is at this point but Taormina realizes he has to improve the physical part of his game:
"I’ve got to become stronger," he said. "I’m a small guy, so to try to take bigger guys in the corner is definitely a little more difficult. I have to work on upper-body strength. Not necessarily try to be able to push everyone around, but be smart enough to where I can maybe push somebody off or get my body in front of that. I just have to try to be a little bit smarter with the bigger guys. I noticed that last year. I use my stick pretty well."
While MAB is not the ideal defenseman for most teams (because he doesn't really play defense), he had a productive year last year. In 2009-2010 with Montreal, Bergeron had an 8.1 GVT (goals versus threshold) in about 15 minutes of ice time per game (about 3 minutes were on the power play). If Taormina could generate similar production while playing his time at a defensive position he would be a great asset to the NHL club. It might be too generous a comparison to say he could be like Bergeron simply based on size, but if Taormina is to make it to the NHL I think this will be his likely role/position.
2. In his last two years at Providence he was one of the more talented defenders they had so he was often placed in defensive roles that did not suit his strengths. Playing on a Providence team (that did have two NHL draftees) that didn't perform well in the standings didn't allow him to play in an optimal situation for him.
"It's being able to do the right things. It's treating your body right," Taormina said of his endurance. "I understand the game a little more (now). Coming from college to here, it's not really a big step. It's a different step. It's going from chaos on the ice to a more controlled environment on the ice now. I think I'm less tired now than I was (in college). I'm doing something right, I guess."
Also, his newly found ability to hit the net and produce on the power play was not something you could tell based on his power play production in Providence. Below, I broke down his production on the power play during his time at Providence. I also added his shots on the power play, total shots and percentage of shots on the power play.
|Year||Goal||Assists||Points||PP Shots||Total Shots||% of Shots on PP|
In Lowell last year Taormina took 190 shots in 75 games an average of about 2.5 per game. In four years (141 games) he totaled 277 an average of about 2 per game. A significant increase, and while the stats aren't available I would assume that most of his shots were on the power play.
Beyond my guesses above I was really curious to see how he had scored his 10 goals last year in Lowell. To do this I went through the highlight section of each game he scored a goal in to see how it was scored. Please note that the links below take you to video via AHL.com that will show full highlights of games in which Taormina scored. That said, they are short, you get to see some of the other AHL prospects play and you have the added bonus of Rob Davison seemingly get into a fight 847 times in 9 games (Please note that I couldn't find the link to the game in which he scored his 9th goal.)
|Date||Goal #||Power Play Goal||Note||Video Link|
|10/10/2009||1||Yes||PP, down low||Link to Game Highlights*|
|10/10/2009||2||No||Low, right in front||Link to Game Highlights*|
|10/17/2009||3||Yes||Power Play streaking in slap from slot||Link to Game Highlights*|
|10/31/2009||4||Yes||Power Play, right point steped up and slapshot||Link to Game Highlights*|
|11/6/2009||5||No||right after power play expired, left side wrist shot||Link to Game Highlights*|
|11/11/2009||6||Yes||right above faceoff circle slot slap||Link to Game Highlights*|
|11/18/2009||7||Yes||kept puck in weaved way to circle wrister||Link to Game Highlights*|
|1/6/2010||8||Yes||wrist/slaper from point||Link to Game Highlights*|
|3/12/2010||10||Yes||center of ice/60 feet out||Link to Game Highlights*|
We already knew that he had scored 8 PP goals. Another goal (#5) came right after a PP expired and his other even strength goal was when he was down very low on the attack. A couple of observations from his goals:
His shot gets through. It is very hard to tell on the video but it doesn't seem like he has that hard of a shot, yet it gets through, a lot. Tim Sestito noticed it, and Taormina himself said the following:
"I can bring my offensive abilities from the point," he said. "I took a lot of shots last year, so I can get a lot of shots through and, hopefully, create chances in front of the net. Just being able to see everything out there and create plays."
The majority of his PP goals were scored after the puck was sent down low or to the side board, was kicked back to the point with a defender scrambling to recover and Taormina had a chance to make 1-2 strides before shooting. Can he get this time in the NHL where defenders recover faster and position themselves better?
Another facet that encouraged me about Taormina's play was that after he seemed to hit the rookie 'wall' (exhaustion) in December, he seemed to bounce back and contributed similar amounts of assists in every full month but December. Are his two major minus months concerning? A bit, but not knowing his time on ice, defensive partners at the time or situation makes it hard to determine what factors contributed to the negative plus/minus stats in November and March. One possibility is that November was a result of overplaying Taormina based upon his productive October and the injuries at the NHL level which caused him to probably be put in situations of a more defensive nature taking him out of his comfort zone.
Taormina's fast start also earned him a two way deal with the Devils. Signed to a 2 year entry level deal last November he will be given a shot to make the team out of camp this year, and it wouldn't shock me if we saw him suit up for the Devils this year.
Matt Taormina will probably be talked about a lot more when training camp arrives. I think he will be given a 'shot' to make the team. Why? His shot and his propensity of it. It also helps that Johhny Mac knows what he can do and knowing that he would likely play in a specialized role where his defensive abilities wouldn't be exposed he might not be a huge risk as the second unit PP quarterback. It's also helpful for Taormina that new Devils coach John MacLean coached him last year at Lowell who spoke highly of him:
"He had a great year last year. He came to training camp and I had him (in Lowell) and he did a great job. He just kept getting better and better. He has a good demeanor about himself and he was great on the power play for us last year and he played well 5-on-5. Some guys, who knows? He’s just maturing. Maybe he’s going to mature into a solid player. You’ve got to take a look at him. He’s making you notice him, which is a good thing."
Will he succeed? I have my doubts, but if he can provide some spark from the blue line, he is worth giving a chance. My main concern is that he won't have the opportunities to score in the NHL the way he did in the AHL. Even if he can, I wouldn't expect him to be more than a PP specialist/3rd pairing defenseman (which is certainly not a bad thing) so it might be advantageous to have him playing 10-13 minutes a night in New Jersey while some of the other high upside prospects work on their game for 20 minutes a night in Albany.
So what do you think? Am I underrating him? Overrating him? Do you think he has a chance to make the team out of training camp? Does the Marc-Andre Bergeron comparison work for you?