There's quite a lot of great, young defensemen in the NHL right now and one guy who kind of falls under the radar of many fans is Carolina's Jamie McBain. While he isn't in the same class as guys like Drew Doughty, John Carlson or PK Subban, he quietly had a very solid rookie season and played top-four minutes on a lot of nights for the Hurricanes. McBain's play in his own zone still has some work to do but he did prove to be a very solid puck-mover his rookie year putting up 7 goals and 30 points from the blue line. Can he build on this impressive rookie season and find a permanent spot in the Canes top-four?
McBain played a lot of minutes for a rookie and had the third highest powerplay ice time for defensemen. My guess is that his ice time will either go down or not change much with Tomas Kaberle and Bryan Allen being on the team now. McBain is basically fighting for top-four role this season with the logjam Carolina has on the blue line and he has a good chance to get it if he can play more on the penalty kill and work on his defensive game in general. McBain was one of the more protected defensemen in terms of quality of competition last year, too which is understandable considering his age. However, that's one thing that's keeping him from being in that higher class of young defensemen and possibly something to look forward to next year. If his boxcar numbers go down because he's becoming more of an all-around or steadier defensive player then I will take that trade off any day.
Eight of McBain's total points came on the powerplay and his effectiveness at getting shots to the net was about at the same level as Joni Pitkanen last year. In other words, he's been decent on the powerplay but not a force there at all. At even strength, he was solid and received benefit from a little luck (9.03 On-ice shooting percentage), so he's prone to a slight regression point-wise
What we were looking for here were defensemen who entered the league at 21-22 years of age, had experience in the AHL and 2-3 years playing college or junior hockey.
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A lot of McBain's comparable players suffered injuries and a drop-off in production resulted. Oddly enough, one of the players who recorded the most points, Jean Lemieux, missed 16 games that season. A year like Jordan Leopold's appears to be the ceiling for McBain next season which is reasonable, even if it's only a slight improvement from last year. The comparables do seem to suggest that McBain overperformed a lot of 22-year old rookies statistically, so a regression could take place, too.
I have heard some rumors about McBain possibly not making the team or spending the entire year in Carolina and I don't buy that unless Justin Faulk is impressive enough to make Carolina out of camp or be called up in the middle of the year. McBain has a lot of potential and only some of it was unleashed last season. He's shown some versatility and if he can continue to improve his all-around game, then he should stick on the team for a little while and become more of a key part of this blue-line. Now, for next year, I see him playing in less minutes because he's likely starting the year on the bottom-pairing but that could change as the year goes on. His role on the powerplay may increase but I see that staying relatively the same as last year. He could have more penalty killing responsibilities, though. As for his point total, I think it will be around the same as last year. He's likely going to stay in the same role and there's a good chance that it may increase or decrease depending on his performance and other roster moves, so I'm going to be a little conservative with this projection.