|Corey Potter celebrates his goal vs. New York on Oct. 22, 2011 (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club).
- "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill.
Call Corey Potter
an optimist. And an opportunist, it seems.
When the 28-year-old signed a one-year, two-way deal back on Jul. 1, it wasn't the day's biggest news. It was a minor-league signing; re-stocking the farm, upping the Oilers' depth in a call-up situation.
Potter has since played in 27 games, posting three goals and 14 points as he averages over 20 minutes per game in ice-time (fourth most among his orange and blue-clad teammates). Emerging as one of the team's most dependable rearguards, Potter's calm demeanour and exceptional on-ice reads have awarded him an extension, paying him $750,000 and $800,000 in Years 1 and 2.
"On Jan. 1, [the Oilers] contacted me about possibly signing an extension," he said, noting the parties' desire to get a deal done. "We've been going back and forth a little bit but, in the last week or so, it heated up and we got it done. I'm pretty excited about it."
The 6'3", 206-pound blueliner spent the 2010-11 season with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, where his lights-out offensive ability continued to blossom, recording seven goals and 37 points in 75 regular-season contests.
It's ultimately what helped him earn his chance in Oil Country.
"It's been a whirlwind," No. 44 said with a chuckle over the phone. "I've been waiting for so many years to get an opportunity like this; and then to start the year here and be given the chance I've had, it's been so great.
"Signing an extension is icing on the cake."
Potter's opportunity has come under unique circumstances, too. The Lansing, MI, product was originally selected 122nd overall by the New York Rangers in 2003. Throughout his nine-game NHL career by the time he'd reached Edmonton, Potter played eight with the Rangers, but had settled into a more full-time role with the club's farm team.
But it was there where a long-lasting and impressionable relationship had developed. Oilers Head Coach Tom Renney served as the Blueshirts' bench boss from 2003-2009, keeping a keen eye on Potter's growth in the process.
Upon landing in orange and blue, Renney had spoken highly about No. 44's innate ability: he's a mobile, puck-moving defenceman with excellent all-around positioning, has a cannon for a shot, and whose intelligent own-zone awareness helps prevent the opponent's relentless attack.
As Potter explains, the admiration between coach and player is mutual.
"We've had a good relationship and we've known each other for quite a while, dating back to our days in New York," he said. "He was pulling to get me here to Edmonton, and I'm so appreciative of the opportunity he's given me.
"I'm glad that I could take the ropes and go with it, so it's been a great experience."
With the Oilers having lost 137 man games to injury, and more to come with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, Jordan Eberle
, Ryan Whitney
, Tom Gilbert and others currently sidelined, Potter's value has grown exponentially. He's not shying away from the challenge either, notching a goal and four assists on the Oilers' recent seven-game road swing.
"You don't want to go through the situation that we're in, and I don't think I've ever seen anything like this, but it's helped me step in and play some key minutes. It helps when the coaches have that respect and give you the opportunity to step in, play in a valuable role and succeed.
"That's what I've done all season," added the Michigan State University alum. "I've needed to step up and seize my opportunities to help the team, and me personally. Tom (Renney) has given me a lot, but it's been up to me to make good. It's a good thing, too, because the organization is great top to bottom."
That's what he's done, and that's what he'll continue to do as Potter looks to help propel the Oilers up the NHL's Western Conference standings and into the elite echelon; and it'll happen, just as the team's growth has been obvious through talented young stars, Potter's career is burgeoning, too.
"It's exciting," he said. "The team's future came into my mind when I signed the extension. We've shown promise, have a lot of young talent and have been bringing in guys to help us rebuild and make the team a lot better. In the next couple years, it's going to be fun to be part of it and watch this team grow."
It's all about opportunity. Sometimes a rookie's comes later, but the difficulty in overcoming it was met with head-on exuberance; the optimistic side, perhaps, in Potter's seven-year pro career.-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick