If you haven’t heard of rookie New Jersey defenceman Matt Taormina, you aren’t alone. Owned in just five percent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues, Taormina’s spent a good portion of his career under the radar. He was never drafted, and spent a full four years playing for woeful Providence College in NCAA’s Hockey East.
One team that did notice the 5’10” defenceman was the New Jersey Devils, who must have picked up on the fact that Taormina was contributing on a ridiculous percentage of Providence’s offence – 28.0% of it over his last two college seasons (for some perspective on that, last year Mike Green contributed on 24.2% of Washington’s goals, while Norris winner Duncan Keith was in on 26.3% of Chicago’s offence). After an 11 game tryout with Ottawa’s farm team in Binghamton (11GP – 2G – 3A – 5PTS, +2), the Devils brought Taormina over to their farm team in Lowell for 2009-10.
Taormina had a spectacular rookie season in the AHL, scoring 50 points for Lowell to finish as the team’s highest scoring defenceman. That performance had an impact on his coach at the time, John MacLean, now the coach of the parent Devils. When the Devils started the season this year, they did so with Taromina (and his cap-friendly $507, 258 contract) on the blue-line.
Taormina’s been far more than a bit player, however, especially on the Devils power play. He’s been assigned to the first unit, playing opposite Ilya Kovalchuk on the point while Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and rotating forwards have worked up front. As a result, he’s been averaging 3:11 per game on the man advantage; no other Devils’ defenceman has managed more than a minute. He’s also getting minutes at even-strength, where his 16:47 ranks third on the team.
Most importantly, though, Taormina’s done good things with that ice-time. He leads the Devils’ defence with four points in seven games, and sits second to Washington’s John Carlson in scoring for rookie defencemen. While it’s early and Taormina may yet falter, his offensive credentials in the minors, history with coach John MacLean, and his early results in New Jersey suggest a player who might be a real steal.