NEWARK NJ - SEPTEMBER 25: Matt Taormina #38 and Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils celebrate a goal by Taormina against the New York Rangers in the second period of a preseason hockey game at Prudential Center on September 25 2010 in Newark New Jersey. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
When I said before the profile on Eric Tangradi's First NHL Goal that we'd be getting into the realm of virtually unknown players, I was really thinking about Matt Taormina. Matt's journey to the NHL might have provided a first: I'm willing to go out on a limb that no one had ever made the NHL who had played his junior hockey in Texarkana, Texas. But in 2004-05, that's where Matt's notable hockey history began: a season with the Texarkana Bandits of the NAHL, a Tier II Jr. circuit similar to the USHL. The Bandits don't exist anymore, but Taormina helped parlay his season there into a scholarship at Providence College, a Christian university in Rhode Island. The NHL rarely looks at players coming from that program, and aside from his junior year, Taormina didn't provide any amazing statistics to help his cause. He was an undersized defenseman in a second tier hockey program, and while he might have been their best defenseman, he still looked a long way from the NHL. So when he graduated in 2009, there wasn't a long list of suitors for his services as a professional. No one was willing to give him a NHL contract, so he did the next best thing: he signed a professional tryout with the Binghamton Senators with hopes of catching on with a AHL team for 2009-10.
The New Jersey Devils, however, do tend to pick up on more NCAA prospects (particularly from the East coast) than other organizations. While they didn't sign him to finish off the 2008-09 season, in August 2009, they announced the signing of Taromina to an AHL level contract. Taormina took off with the Lowell Devils, recording a 50 point rookie season, which helped earn him his first NHL contract as the Devils signed him during the Olympic break in February. Taormina finished the season with the team, and entered the 2010 training camp as a longshot possibility to make the team. With several injuries to blueliners, including veterans like Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador, a spot opened up for Taormina to start the season with the team. His offensive instincts were in short supply amongst Devils blueliners, so it even resulted in power play time. With star attraction (or is it distraction?) Ilya Kovalchuk manning the point with him, Taromina was set up for a one timer against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 15, 2010, to accentuate just how far, how fast, he had come as a professional:
Taormina has played every game for the struggling Devils so far, and he's more than held his own. He's consistently playing above 20 minutes a night and has remained a plus player. The Eastern Michigan native has been an even or plus player in 10 of 15 games, leads all Devils blueliners in goals (3), points (5), and shots on goal, logging the most PP time on the team while ranking 3rd in even strength ice time. He's one of only five rookie blueliners averaging over 20:00 of ice time per game. In short, his presence hasn't been a negative factor for the Devils so far, and when all their defenseman get back to full health, he looks like he'll have secured a spot on the roster. Of course, though, there are pesky salary cap issues with New Jersey, which might have helped him get a chance to begin with, but might force him to the minors when all is said and done. Certainly, unlike some of the other players we've featured so far, he's making it hard for the Devils to send him back.