Prospectively, Carolina has seven NHL-level defensemen on the roster heading into training camp (could be more if some of the younger players impress in camp) and only six spots available to play on opening night. With spots guaranteed to guys like Joni Pitkanen, Tomas Kaberle, Tim Gleason, Bryan Allen and possibly Jamie McBain, that leaves only one space for one of Derek Joslin and Jay Harrison. Who should play there? If you have looked at some analysis I've done on the defense, I've said quite a few things about both defensemen. In my post on scoring chances, I said that Joslin deserved a spot to start the season because of his impressive scoring chance ratio. However, you could make a case for Harrison starting, as well because he has done just about everything you can ask for as a third-pairing defenseman. If he wants to find himself not in the press box on opening night, he may have to go above and beyond.
The former third round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs was never able to crack their roster and spent most of his six seasons there with their AHL affiliates there. He was given a chance with the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2009-10 season when the roster experienced a plethora of injuries and he was able to stick around for most of the season. Last year was the first time he spent a full-season on an NHL club despite him turning 28 last November. When it takes a player that long to finally make it to the NHL, that usually means his ceiling isn't that high. A look at Harrison's underlying numbers tells a similar story.
|Year||SA/G||Corsi On||Corsi Rel.||Balanced Corsi||Corsi Rel. QoC||OZ%||OZ% Fin.||Diff.||SC%|
Harrison was sheltered big-time in his first stint with the Canes and was dominated. I don't know what earned him the roster spot last season (maybe it was the dazzling 6 points in 38 games) but the coaching staff and front office obviously saw something in Harrison that made them want to re-sign him. He proved himself to be a more capable defenseman last season. He was sheltered a lot less, managed to get the puck moving in the right direction and did a better job at preventing shots. Harrison played in a career-high 72 games last year and his ice-time steadily increased as the season went on until he missed the last seven games with the dreaded "upper-body injury." Harrison should have no problem getting more minutes and eventually replacing Gleason, right? Wrong. Harrison's numbers look impressive but he ranked dead last among Carolina defensemen in terms of quality of competition and his scoring chance percentage was slightly below the team average for defensemen. Jay Harrison is what he is, which is a third-pairing defenseman, and he was payed as such this off-season with a two-year deal worth $700k per season. Do I want Harrison to have a bigger role next season? Absolutely. We do not need anyone to replace Gleason now, but what we need is someone to take a load off his shoulders and handle the tough defensive assignments. That person will likely be Bryan Allen because he has at least shown that he can play against tough competition in the past, something Harrisoin has yet to do. Also,
His ice-time may have increased towards the end of the season, but a closer look at his scoring chance data shows that he struggled once he was given a bigger role.
Click here or the picture to enlarge.
Note: The x-axis is separated by 10-game segments. 1 = Games 1-10, 2 = 11-20, 3 = 21-30, etc.
Harrison's first 20 games or so were abysmal as he performed well under the team average and then he seemed to hit his stride after and consistently out-performed his teammates.....until the end of the year when he was given more ice-time. Like I stated earlier, Harrison is who is he is. At least for now. He definitely made some improvements to his game last year but that does not mean that we should put him into a top-four role next season. Why? Because we still don't know if he can handle it.
Here's a look at his WOWY to see who he worked best with and if he was the one carrying the load.
Jay Harrison WOWY:
We mainly care about defensemen here, so we'll look at those first.
His most common partners were Ian White, Jamie McBain and Anton Babchuk which shows right off the bat that he did not have a consistent partner this year. Him and White were not the best pairing at all and White appeared to be slightly better off without Harrison as a partner. Him and Babchuk were a bit of a disaster and the stats say that Babchuk's high-risk game had a lot to do with it. Harrison and McBain had a considerable amount of success, though. On paper, it looks like a good young pairing as Harrison's "stay-at-home" style compliments McBain's all-around game a little bit. The only bad news with the numbers here regarding Harrison is that McBain appeared to be the bigger factor in this pairing by a lot. Harrison and Gleason were also put together for a little bit and they also fared pretty well and neither did too much heavy-lifting.
Is Jay Harrison a top-four defenseman? No. Can he be one? Possibly. He should be considered for a roster spot on opening night and if Bryan Allen's ability has dropped as much as I think it has, then he could be a slightly better (and cheaper) option on the blue-line. The only big problem with this is that Harrison has never faced top competition and I will continue to take his solid numbers with a grain of salt until he shows that he can take on tougher assignments. Until then, Harrison is just a third-pairing defenseman and there's nothing wrong with that, but he may need to be more than that this season to stay in the lineup.