By Bruce Berlet
The Hartford Courant
One practice with the parent team doesn’t ensure a game in the NHL.
But someone in the Rangers organization liked what Wolf Pack defenseman Corey Potter was doing enough to have him make a trip to Greenburgh, N.Y. Paul Mara’s quick recovery prevented Potter from getting on the Rangers’ plane to Montreal Feb. 2 for his NHL debut, but Potter’s psyche received a major boost.
“It was a good feeling to know you’re on their list of potential call-ups,” Potter said. “It gives you a little confidence and is another reminder that you know you’re doing a good job.”
Pack assistant coach J.J. Daigneault, who was assistant coach and director of player development for the Phoenix RoadRunners before joining Hartford, said Potter, who started last season with Charlotte of the ECHL, is the team’s most improved defenseman thanks to an upgrade in nearly every phase of his game. Though Potter has never been a major offensive threat, his all-around ability is helped by a crackdown on obstruction-like penalties.
“I’ve always liked Pottsie, even when he went to Charlotte, because he has a lot of qualities to succeed in the new game,” said Daigneault, who works with the defensemen. “He has an active stick that makes him good around the net and corners, he anticipates well and has good awareness, getting his stick in passing lanes. And he has a good, long stride that looks smooth but not all that fast, but he’s very efficient. He’s a fast skater who likes to be first on dump-ins and keep puck possession in the process.
“For a young kid coming into our league, it’s all about building an identity. We know he isn’t a fighter, but he’s gritty, abrasive and a tough guy to play against because he always finishes his checks. So it’s an identity that he’s building in the AHL.”
Consistency is the key to getting to the next level. Potter, 24, was named the top defenseman at Michigan State his last three years. He also teamed with Pack center Greg Moore and former Pack goalie Al Montoya to help the U.S. win its first gold medal in the world junior championships in 2004.
“You need some time to bloom, so I think Corey is following a good process,” Daigneault said. “If he keeps playing like he is, I think he’ll be a Ranger some day.”
Potter has been paired with most of the other Pack defensemen, but he recently has skated mostly alongside captain Andrew Hutchinson, another former Spartan. Each benefits from the other’s assets. Potter’s ability to pick up pucks on dump-ins and battle through traffic helps free Hutchinson for odd-man rushes.
“It definitely helps playing with Hutch because we feed off each other pretty well,” Potter said. “Whenever I’m in trouble, he’s giving me an out, and whenever he’s in trouble, I’m giving him an out. He has NHL experience and knows where to be on the ice, so it’s easy to find him.”
The partnership has helped Potter move to third in the league and second among defensemen in plus/minus (plus-24), which is four more than Hutchinson, who is tied for fifth with Moore.
“I think I’m on track with where the coaching staff wants me to be and where I would like to be,” said Potter, who has three goals and 20 assists and is the only Pack player to play in all 62 games. “I’m getting a chance to play in all situations, putting up some decent numbers and the plus-minus is there. As more of a defensive defenseman, that’s kind of how you would like to judge your play.”