If not for injuries, Patrice Cormier might have been a 2008 first-round draft pick. Cormier missed training camp last season for the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with appendicitis. Later in the season he was knocked out of the Oceanic's lineup for 19 games with a concussion and a shoulder injury.
Cormier was invited to the Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects Game in January, but couldn't participate. He also likely would have gotten a chance to compete for Team Canada in the World Under-18 Championship, but was sidelined at the time.
It all conspired to Cormier falling to the New Jersey Devils at No. 54, in the second round. Cormier knew his injuries kept him from being a top selection, and actually was surprised to go as high as he did.
"I had a good idea that I wasn't going to go in the first (round), but I really had no expectations," Cormier told The Bergen Record. "Going in the second round, I really wasn't expecting that, either. It's an amazing feeling. I can't describe it right now. I'm just thinking in the moment and it's good."
Cormier's agent, Tim Cranston, is convinced that if healthy, Cormier would have gone in the first round.
"If Patrice Cormier had been healthy all season and played in the World Under-18 Championship and played in the CHL Top Prospects Game, you would be asking me, 'Where is he going to go in the first round?' " Cranston told The Moncton Times and Transcript. "That would be the question. But because of circumstances we're into this unknown. He had what scouts call a limited-viewing year.
"There is this question: What would he be ranked if he had played in those events and played the full season? If people do their homework, they'll see the reality with him."
"Patrice is at his best when he is using his speed and playing an aggressive game. He is a hard worker and is hard to knock off of the puck. At this point in his development, he projects to be a third line-type checker. Is the type of player who likes to play in traffic and likes to drive to the net.”
-- Chris Bordeleau
Cormier is a speedy center who had 18 goals and 41 points despite playing just 51 regular-season games. He excelled in the QMJHL playoffs, leading Rimouski with 4 goals, 5 assists and 9 points in 9 games as the Oceanic was eliminated in five games in the second round by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau identifies Cormier's speed, willingness to take part in physical play and his puck protection ability as his assets.
"Patrice is at his best when he is using his speed and playing an aggressive game," Bordeleau said. "He is a hard worker and is hard to knock off of the puck. At this point in his development, he projects to be a third line-type checker. Is the type of player who likes to play in traffic and likes to drive to the net."
While some offensive players shy away from the physical aspect of the game, Cormier doesn't, and the proof is his 84 penalty minutes last season, the fifth-highest total on his team.
Even though a return to Rimouski this season is likely, Cormier won't concede anything. He does, though, know his skating needs work for him to make it with the Devils.
"I think I'm very strong mentally (but) I think my skating needs a little bit of an adjustment," Cormier told The Record. "The biggest thing to play in this League is you have to be able to skate and I have to work on that a little bit, my speed. I don't think I'm very far away. My biggest goal this year is to go to camp and make my name and maybe stay there. Why not think like that? If you go there and think you're going to stay, you'll give it your all and see what comes after. So that's my thinking right now."
While Cormier is a creative offensive player, he also is praised for his play in his own zone. With New Jersey's reputation as one of the most defensive teams in the NHL, the match between Cormier and the Devils is a perfect one.
"I know they (the Devils) are very good defensively and I take pride in being good defensively, so I think it will be a good fit," Cormier told The Record.
If Cormier develops the way the Devils think he can, he could wind up being one of the biggest steals in the 2008 Draft.