VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks aren’t exactly easing rookie defenseman Frank Corrado into the NHL.
Not only will the 20-year-old make his NHL debut 10 days after his junior season ended, but Corrado will do so against the League-leading Chicago Blackhawks while playing a top-four role on a depleted Canucks’ defense.
Even Corrado was caught off guard by his meteoric rise.
“A little bit of a shock, for sure,” said Corrado, who did play three games with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League before Monday’s promotion.
As for facing a Blackhawks team that leads the Western Conference in goals and features star forwards like Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Corrado is trying not to think too much about it – at least not in those terms.
“When you look at that stuff that’s when you are going to fill your head and kind of get yourself in trouble,” Corrado said. “The task isn’t playing against Marian Hossa, the task is ‘am I going to get the puck out, am I going to make a nice pass, or am I going to play the body here?’ That’s what you have to focus on.”
Corrado’s rise from fifth round draft pick in 2011 to second-pair NHL defenseman in 2013 is in part about a rapid development curve that also earned him a training camp invite to Vancouver in January, briefly interrupting a season that included being one of the last cuts from Canada’s World Junior Championship team. But it’s also partly because he was the only right-shot option for a depleted defense and a team trying to find its identity in the final week of the regular season.
Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev – the Canucks’ only natural right-side defensemen – are both out with lower body injuries, and there are questions about whether they will be back in time for the playoffs. Keith Ballard, one of several left-shot defenders who was asked – and struggled – to switch sides this season, joined them on the sidelines after tweaking his back in a fight on Saturday.
That left Derek Joslin, another recent call-up from the AHL and another left shot, as the only extra healthy defenseman on the roster, and he hadn't played in an NHL game all season. So the Canucks called up Corrado instead.
“It’s a combination of we’re curious if he can play at this level and, personnel wise, we have two options right now and one of those options is a right-handed shot,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “So that’s basically how he won the job.”
While the Canucks try to find enough healthy bodies and get the point needed to secure a fifth-straight Northwest Division title, the Blackhawks are trying to find the balance between getting ready and being rested for the playoffs.
Chicago is closing in on the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular season team -- they can clinch it Monday with a win and a Pittsburgh Penguins loss -- and considering resting key players over their final four games.
They won't do so against the Canucks, though Chicago coach Joel Quenneville did say having the top spot in the Western Conference locked up has allowed him to "watch the minutes on our top guys," and be more patient waiting for injured players to return. Quenneville said top-six forward Patrick Sharp, who has only played two games since early March, won't come back against the Canucks, but will "very likely play" against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.
As for sitting out other players, Quenneville said, "maybe towards the end we might consider that." Given the Blackhawks' often-bitter rivalry with the Canucks, it might have been tough for him to find volunteers to sit out anyway.
"It's a fun rivalry," Patrick Kane said. "And it seems go get better and better as time goes on. … It will be like a tune-up for playoffs."
In some ways, Corrado is like the Chicago players -- he doesn't want to miss this game either, even if there are easier ways for a defenseman to debut than going up against a Blackhawks team that has only lost five games in regulation all season.
“You don’t get too many opportunities to make a first impression in the NHL, and a lot of guys dream of this and work so hard for this, so you can't be picky,” said Corrado. “There’s no better way then to just get thrown into the fire.”
Here's how the rest of the lineups are expected to look when the Canucks host the Blackhawks on Monday night at Rogers Arena:
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Daniel Carcillo – Dave Bolland – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Viktor Stalberg
Jamal Mayers – Marcus Kruger – Michael Frolik
Duncan Keith – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya – Sheldon Brookbank
Scratched: Carter Hutton, Michal Handzus, Brandon Bollig, Drew LeBlanc
Injured: Michal Rozsival (lower body, day-to-day), Patrick Sharp (upper body, expected to return Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers)
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins – Derek Roy – Ryan Kesler
Mason Raymond – Maxim Lapierre – Jannik Hansen
Tom Sestito – Andrew Ebbett – Zack Kassian
Dan Hamhuis – Jason Garrison
Alexander Edler – Frank Corrado
Andrew Alberts – Cam Barker
Scratched: Steve Pinizzoto, Derek Joslin, Dale Weise
Injured: Keith Ballard (back), Kevin Bieksa (lower body), Christopher Tanev (ankle), David Booth (ankle surgery), Manny Malhotra (eye).