Matt Corrente figured it was him they were talking about, but he still had to listen a bit more intently just to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
He did, and nope, he wasn’t.
In 2006, Corrente was told by his agent that he may be better served watching the Entry Draft from his home in Mississauga, Ontario, because he wasn’t likely to go in the first round and there was a chance he could slip beyond the second round.
“I was just watching the TV and they said, ‘A defenseman from the Saginaw Spirit,’ ” Corrente told NHL.com. “I was like, ‘Who else could it be?’ ”
Corrente was the only player who didn’t walk up to the stage in Vancouver that night as the New Jersey Devils selected him with the final pick of the opening round of the draft.
“I was kind of disappointed I wasn’t there,” he said.
It doesn’t matter anymore. Two years later, Corrente is a headliner among the Devils' top prospects.
Of all the players who were in Newark in late July for the Devils’ prospect conditioning camp, Corrente is the one most fans wanted to know about because he is turning pro and there’s a chance he could play his way into the NHL this coming fall.
“This whole summer, I have never worked as hard as I have,” Corrente said. “It’s up to me. I need to prove that I belong here. This is where I want to be.”
There is a lot of traffic in front of him. The Devils already have eight defensemen on the roster, including Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya, Colin White, Bryce Salvador, Mike Mottau, Andy Greene, Sheldon Brookbank and Vitaly Vishnevski.
It’s more likely that Corrente will make his professional debut in Lowell for the Devils’ AHL affiliate, but coach Brent Sutter wasn’t conceding anything when he spoke with a smattering of reporters during the camp.
“There’s nothing written in stone,” Sutter said. “You still need your veteran players to perform and a kid like Corrente, we’ll have to see. We’ll see how camp unfolds and we’re hoping some of these young kids are pushing. I think he’ll be one that does.”
"There is a lot of hard work ahead of me and I realize that. This is a new chapter of my life and I am looking forward to it everyday. I have a goal in mind and I so want to try to get it."
-- Matt Corrente
Still, his potential was enough to make Devils chief scout David Conte tell NHL.com that he believes Corrente can play against top players in the NHL for 15 seasons. Conte added there is no rush.
“I feel I can do that as well, but there is a lot of hard work ahead of me and I realize that,” Corrente said. “This is a new chapter of my life and I am looking forward to it everyday. I have a goal in mind and I so want to try to get it.”
Corrente said he’s done a lot of growing up since the Devils took a chance on a kid who wasn’t even among the top 30 North American skaters ranked by NHL’s Central Scouting department in 2006.
Most of all, he said he has gotten a hold of his temper, which has been known to flare out of control. Corrente was limited to 21 games for the Niagara IceDogs this past season due to injuries he suffered in a pair of fights, including one that required surgery to his thumb, and an eight-game suspension for elbowing.
He averaged more than two penalty minutes per game in his junior career, including 172 penalty minutes in 61 games for Saginaw in 2005-06, his second OHL season.
“I have come along way,” Corrente said. “My second year in Saginaw, it was probably the worst year. It has been getting better ever since. One penalty can cost you a game and it’s not worth it. You have to stay out of the box and on the ice, where the games are won.”
Conte rolled his eyes slightly when he was asked if Corrente has some control over his temper.
“Control?” the scout said. “I don’t want him to lose it, but you want him to control it. I don’t look at it really as a problem. You manage strengths and weaknesses. You try to improve on it when it becomes too much, and you try to build on it when you think it’s just right.”
Control is one thing, but the last thing Corrente wants to do is lose his edge, even if that means spending some time in the penalty box. He says it serves as an intimidation factor to the other teams.
“It keeps them honest,” he said. “I finish my checks.”
It should come as no great shock to learn that Corrente tries to model his game after former Devils great Scott Stevens, who was arguably the most intimidating player of his era and someone who spent a great deal of time in the penalty box early in his career as he learned to harness his own temper.
“I used to love Scotty Stevens and the way he played,” Corrente said. “He was a great competitor and he had that edge. I have met him a couple of times. Even when you shake his hand you can tell he’s intense. That’s how I want to be.”
That’s how the Devils expect him to play.
Where that is this coming season is still in doubt. It’s up to Corrente to force the Devils into making a difficult decision.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s going to be a good player in this league and he’s going to be someone that you’re going to hate to play against,” Sutter said. “What I’ve seen of him … he plays for keeps out there.”
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.