One of Marc Bergevin's free-agent acquisitions is paying off in a big way for the Montreal Canadiens' minor-league affiliate.
Defenceman Matt Taormina is making his case for a fourth straight AHL All-Star Game appearance, an is on pace for a second consecutive Eddie Shore Award as the league’s best defender. He'd be the first repeat winner since Curtis Murphy back in 2003 and 2004, where he won it as a member of the Houston Aeros and Milwaukee Admirals.
Through 24 games, Taormina leads all AHL defencemen in both primary and total assists and points (21 assists and 23 points), playing at a near point-per-game pace (0.96 points versus 0.86 last season with his former team, the Syracuse Crunch). He currently leads Laval in scoring and sits in eighth place on the AHL leaderboard.
Taormina has six multi-point games this season, including assists on the tying and game-winning goals on Saturday night, and a four-point game on Oct. 13 against Binghamton.
Matt Taormina makes it 7-6 now and my computer just burst into flames pic.twitter.com/ka9vfhTsg1— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 14, 2017
Prior to joining the Rocket this summer, Taormina had spent time in the New Jersey Devils organization before playing two stints with the Syracuse Crunch. The three-time All-Star had a career year, scoring 15 goals and 60 points in 70 games, tying Lehigh Valley's T.J. Brennan for the points lead among defencemen, and leading all blue-liners in points in the post-season. Taormina ended the year as a First-Team All-Star in addition to claiming his top defenceman accolade.
Great play by Matt Taormina sets up Antoine Waked for his second goal of the year.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 22, 2017
Rocket lead 1-0! pic.twitter.com/a5ixsxhpmZ
While he's not scoring as many goals as he did in a Crunch uniform, he's clearly been a major benefit for the Rocket, especially on the man advantage. In fact, both of his goals scored this season have been on the power play, which Laval has running as the ninth-best in the American Hockey League at a 20% conversion rate, despite their top forwards all missing significant action with injuries and/or recalls to the NHL.
Conversely, Syracuse is third-to-last in the AHL at 12.6%. Taormina scored eight of the Crunch's 58 power play goals last season (almost 14% of their output). Current Rocket team captain Byron Froese led Crunch players with 10, though eight of them were scored in a Toronto Marlies uniform.
The puck-moving defenceman and power-play specialist has also been trusted with top-pairing defensive assignments and has provided help on the penalty kill as well, similarly to his time in with the Crunch.
While his skating isn't as strong as some of the current puck-movers with the NHL club, he's been a consistent presence on the Rocket's top pair, either with Jakub Jerabek or Brett Lernout. His greatest value to the organization comes in continue to play in Laval, as he'll be counted on to guide the Rocket to — and through — the AHL playoffs.
The 2018 AHL All-Star Classic will be in Utica from Jan. 28-29. You can put money down that Taormina will be called to represent his team that weekend for a fourth straight year.