a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

05/02/12 Rookie Report Card: Corey Potter

Being 27 years old at the start of the 2011-12 season meant that Corey Potter could not be considered a rookie, as the age cutoff is 26. However, he brought only nine games of NHL experience with him to the Oilers, which made this his first full year in the league. His season had a little bit of everything: a surprise spot in the lineup, an unexpectedly strong start, an injury and a tailing off. Based on the whole picture, he earned himself a C+.

Potter was the Oilers' second-highest scoring defenseman this season with 4-17-21 in 62 games. During the time that the team was winning at the beginning of the year (from October 9th to November 8th) Potter scored 2-6-8 in just twelve games, and observers were marveling at how much better the defense was than what everyone predicted. Edmonton's blueline was not expected to be offensively gifted so the emergence of Potter was a revelation.

Unfortunately things didn't carry on like that for him. He injured his ankle on November 17th in a game against Ottawa and didn't return until December 15th. He was still holding those eight points at the time of the injury, and after returning to the lineup he collected just 15 more in 55 games. Some of his declining production can, perhaps, be blamed on injuries, as he was also felled by a groin injury and later a concussion to end the season. But there's also his having never really played in the NHL to take into consideration. How much of that early production should we have realistically expected him to carry on through a full season?

He certainly had the opportunity to succeed. Of all Oilers defensemen, Potter was first in total powerplay time with 153:24 and also first in powerplay time per game at 2:28. He faced the second-easiest competition of regular Oilers defenders at even strength and started his shifts in the offensive zone 54.3% of the time.

Potter wasn't expected to play a shutdown role with the Oilers, and sometimes had a difficult go of it on the defensive side. He only spent 51 seconds per game penalty killing, which was last among the regular defensemen. Furthermore, the total offense that he brought to the table wasn't quite enough to justify his continued presence in the lineup. The Oilers needed either an offensive outburst from their back end, or a steadying hand. Potter provided neither.

His performance was good enough for the Oilers to sign him to a two year extension worth $775,000 per season - a $250,000 raise over his one year deal. The move was generally hailed as a solid depth move, and will act as insurance if the team is unable to sign a higher-end offensive option like Justin Schultz or perhaps Matt Carle.

Potter has taken a long road to the NHL, which can partially be considered bad luck because he was lost in the shuffle in some other organizations. The Oilers gave him a chance and he seized it at the right moment, which is a feel-good story for everyone involved. There are warts in his game, however, which he'll need to iron out if he wants to stay. And though he does provide insurance if upgrades cannot be found, there will almost assuredly (we hope) be changes to the Oilers' back end in the off season. The situation is going to be even more muddled next season, and the struggle for ice time will be even more pronounced.

This season behind him, Potter has some more experience moving forward that will hopefully help him going forward. His production steadily increased over his time in the AHL, but his career high in points in that league is 37, so there are some questions about how good he can actually be. No one will object if he can continue to pleasantly surprise.

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