When Matt Taormina was signed in the 2017 off-season, it was done with a singular purpose in mind: to help bolster the Rocket’s offensive production on the blue line, and to give the young prospects a veteran presence to learn from.
Over the course of the season, it was extremely apparent at just how much Taormina’s presence in the lineup affected the Laval team. The former Eddie Shore winner (for AHL defenceman of the year) would have likely been a strong contender for a second consecutive award had he not missed a chunk of time due to injury and the poor overall results his team produced.
Advertised as a puck moving, offence-driving force from the blue line, Taormina did all that and more when he was on the ice. With 52 points he was third among all defencemen in scoring, and his 48 assists lead all defenders and was third overall for all skaters in the AHL this year. His skating ability and positioning in the offensive zone make him a valuable asset for his team, as he was one of the few defenders on the Rocket who could move the puck in all three zones.
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
With his ability to thread passes, it’s not hard to see why he’s become one of the AHL’s best assets on defence. His skating allows him to start plays from his own end of the ice, then transition through the neutral zone while carrying the puck, something the Rocket desperately needed more of. Pairing him with the heavy shot of Eric Gelinas on the power play and for offensive zone starts was a dangerous combination, as Gelinas could patrol the blue line while Taormina skated to create the space for his partner’s booming slapshot.
That’s part of what made the Rocket man advantage so dangerous, and when Taormina went down for a few weeks with an injury it was a noticeable change. With him in the lineup, the special teams unit was fluid and able to consistently create chances all over the offensive zone. When he’s missing, the power play becomes more stationary and easier to defend against, which mostly involved sticking a defender to Chris Terry and Eric Gelinas.
While his strength is on the offensive side of the puck, his smarts allow him to read passes and opponents movements very well. He’s able to use his skating to keep himself in plays even if he’s caught out of position up the ice. Taormina uses his stick effectively. He has a smaller frame so he’s sometimes outmatched physically in his own end. To counter this, he uses a combination of poke checks and the active stick to keep opponents at bay.
He isn’t the most defensively-proficient player on the roster. While he can hold his own, he shouldn’t be leaned on as a number one defensive option, especially if you’re pairing him with someone like Gelinas. Plus/Minus is not a perfect stat, but when a guy who usually is close to even in that category posts a minus-31 there’s some sort of issue going on. While part of it is due to his weaknesses, a chunk of it is due to the coaching staff trying to lean on him in a role he shouldn’t be in.
He’s signed through next year, and if his first year was any indication the Rocket can expect another big year out of Matt Taormina. He was an AHL All-Star once again, and one of the top producing defencemen in the league, while posting his second highest point total of his career. He’s a great option to takeover the captaincy of the team if Byron Froese stays in Montreal like he did this past season, and he can teach many of the young defencemen as they get their feet wet in the professional ranks.
Taormina came exactly as advertised. He created offence and could hold his own when called upon. Next season will be better, as there’s nowhere to go but up for Laval, and Taormina is going to be a big part of that.