Taylor Chorney had two professional seasons prior to 2010-11, and despite playing in the NHL in both, neither season ought to be considered a success. In 2008-09, Chorney had the worst +/- on a bad Springfield Falcons team at -29 (in 68 games), and in his two NHL games that year, Chorney was -4. In 2009-10, Chorney may have set some kind of record by having the worst +/- among defensemen on two different squads: -20 in 32 games with the Falcons, and -21 in 42 games with the Oilers. It's one thing to be drowning as a young defender in the NHL, but drowning like that in his second AHL season was enough for most of us to give up on Chorney as a top prospect, and instead use him as a cautionary tale for players like Jeff Petry ("let's hope they learned something from rushing Chorney").
His one saving grace seemed to be that, no matter the results, the organization believed him to be a player with an NHL future. When Chorney was cut in camp along with two other young defensemen but before veterans Richard Petiot and Shawn Belle, it looked like that saving grace was out the door, and with it, Chorney's time in the NHL. On Monday, January 10th, Chorney was recalled by the Edmonton Oilers - on merit.
Taylor Chorney's stock when we last did these rankings was a lot like BP's after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He certainly deserved to be falling, but we may have overdone it a tad, and after a pretty decent recovery from the player, everyone is willing to bump their valuation back to a more reasonable level.
There were signs that this might happen even last year. First and foremost, the Oilers believed that Taylor Chorney had the right basket of skills to become an NHL player. Sure, the results weren't there, but he could skate and he could handle the puck with aplomb. There were things to work on, but if he could get those up to par, his natrual talent was such that he could be a player. Further, Pat Quinn and Tom Renney decided that the best development strategy for the young defender was starting him in the defensive zone more than virtually anyone else in the league alongside the "steadying" presence of Jason Strudwick. In some ways, then, it's not surprising that Chorney was -21, it's that he was only -21. Well, okay, that's an exaggeration, but you get the point that these were not ideal circumstances for the young man.
This season, Chorney has taken a step forward at the AHL level. Chorney's +/- has moved up from the basement to middle of the pack in Oklahoma City, a solid "even" behind his name, and it's not as though he's being sheltered to get there. When I last looked at Quality of Competition for Oklahoma City, Chorney's name was up near the top of the list (although the spread for the defenders was much smaller than the spread for the forwards). On a team with more legitimate power play options on the back-end, Chorney was still able to get enough PP time to post 15 points in 40 games too.
Did last year's NHL experience help him to take this step forward? I don't know the answer, and to be honest, I hope the Oilers don't make the inference whether it helped or not because watching was painful. We haven't seen Chorney in Edmonton as much this season, but I must that the two games he's played so far this year have been much easier on the eyes: the skating and the passing are still there, the defensive coverage is getting better, and the old partner is in the press-box. If Chorney plays well enough, he may just keep him there.