With the crippling injury to Joni Pitkanen along with the Tomas Kaberle experiment resulting in an utter failure, the Hurricanes needed some of their other defensemen to step up and fill in some of the holes. One of the players that managed to do that was 19-year-old rookie Justin Faulk but another player who really stepped up his game was Jay Harrison. During training camp last year, many thought Harrison could end up being either the team's 7th defenseman or a waiver wire victim, but he ended up making the team out of camp and was eventually relied on to play top four minutes and became a key part of the team's defense corps.
Harrison mentioned that he was working on his shot over the last off-season and the hard work seemed to pay off for him as this is what kept him on the team and opened up a lot of opportunities for him. Before last season, Harrison wasn't thought to be much more than a good, reliable third-pairing defenseman but the fact that he added some offense to his game helped him earn a leg-up on some other camp hopefuls and earn him a spot on the team along with some considerable time on the second powerplay unit. Harrison's new-found offense really showed last season as he led all Carolina defensemen in goals with 9 and finished second among defensemen in points with 23.
Those numbers aren't going to set the world on fire, but Harrison definitely turned in a nice season considering that he played more minutes than he ever has before and played a much bigger role than he ever did before in his career. The question now is what can he do to build on last year? Harrison is a late-bloomer as he didn't play his first NHL season until he was 28 and that was only two years ago, so it's very likely that what we're seeing now is the most Carolina will get out of Harrison for his career. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though.
Outside of Tim Gleason, Harrison might be the team's sturdiest defensemen when it comes to playing in his own zone, so the team might rely on him as one of their tough-minute players and his chemistry with Justin Faulk could mean that he will continue to log a lot of big-minutes. Ideally, Harrison is a borderline 2nd/3rd pairing defenseman on most teams but he showed last season that he can be serviceable in a bigger role if needed, so that makes him nice to have around but it's still unclear what role the Canes will have him play next season.
We know that Pitkanen, Faulk and Gleason are going to be in the top-four but the player who finishes off that quartet is anyone's guess. Harrison might be the one to step into that role since he played most of last season there but that could easily change if Jamie McBain has a great season. My thought is that Kirk Muller will rotate the defense pairings a little bit and Harrison will probably get a long look in the top-four sometime during the early part of the season.
After the jump, we'll take a closer look at how he might perform in this role and what else coudl be in store for Harrison in the upcoming season (should there be one).