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).
Harrison has played only two full seasons in the NHL and was given completely different roles in both of those years. When the Hurricanes first acquired him, Harrison was mostly a third-pairing/depth defenseman who wasn't used much more beyond that except to kill penalties. A year later, things completely changed and Harrison found himself playing over 17 minutes a game at even strength and being utilized on both special teams units. Will this continue next year, though?
I mentioned earlier that the Hurricanes have a need for another defenseman who can play top-four minutes and I think Harrison is more likely to step into that role than McBain at the beginning of the season. Whether or not he holds onto the job is another question but he should have the hot hand right now. However, I don't think he will be playing as many minutes at even strength as he did last season. If everyone manages to stay healthy, then I would expect the Hurricanes to rotate their defensemen around a little bit instead of having minutes assigned based on pairings. Harrison, McBain and Corvo are capable of playing in the top-four and will probably each get their turn to play in the top-four.
The Canes also have a lack of a true shutdown defenseman outside of Tim Gleason, so they are going to need to spread the tough minutes among their defense unless someone steps up into Bryan Allen's role. There are many who are speculating that Justin Faulk could be the person to take over the shutdown role, but I don't think he is quite ready yet. Harrison is the team's best stay-at-home defenseman outside of Gleason, so he could be the one that's slotted into that role when all is said and done. Should that happen, then Harrison could see himself playing even more minutes but for now, I'm thinking he will play around 16 minutes a game at even strength.
After leading the Canes in goals last season, is it possible for Harrison to continue this kind of offensive production? It's tough to answer that question with either a yes or no because there is only so much data present here, but one thing that is pretty obvious is that Harrison got the help of a pretty high even strength shooting percentage last year and that definitely boosted his goal total. He also shot the puck more than he did in the previous year, but his shooting percentage increasing by two percent gave him 1-2 extra goals on the year than he would have had if he continued to shoot at the same rate. That is something I don't think will continue next year, so I'm expecting Harrison to finish with fewer even strength goals.
As for Harrison's shot rate, it took a pretty big leap forward last season and I'm not sure if he will continue to shoot at that rate if he isn't given a zone start push or an offensive-minded defense partner. It's hard to figure out what kind of shot rate to expect from Harrison because he played over half of his total career minutes in the last two seasons, and he posted completely different shot rates in those years. Given what we know, it's probably safe to expect Harrison to have a shot rate between the two numbers he posted last season. I think he will continue to get top-four minutes and probably won't see his shot rate decline too much from what it was last season.
|Year||ESA||ESA/60||ESSF/60||ES on-ice Sh%|
The one thing that sticks out here is that the Hurricanes had a very low shooting percentage at even strength when Harrison was on the ice. Even for a defenseman, a shooting percentage of only 6.37% is pretty low so it's fair to expect that to rebound in the upcoming season. Harrison got to play with some good forwards in front of him last year, so I'm a little surprised that his on-ice shooting percentage was so low but sometimes the bounces don't go your way. Harrison getting to play with stronger forwards also led to him being on ice for more shots at even strength, which is something that could continue next year depending on what defense pairing he is placed on.
Let's say that Harrison gets to play the majority of his minutes with one of the Canes top-six lines, will it lead to him having more assists? Possibly, but that is going to depend on how many shots that line produces next season. I think Harrison will get ample time with the top-six next season, be on ice for fewer shots and see his shooting percentage improve a little bit from what it was last season. Things could change if he gets stuck playing behind the Canes fourth line or something similar to that, but I don't see that happening now unless he gets bumped to the third pairing for the majority of the year.
|Year||PP TOI||PP TOI/G|
Last year was the first instance where Harrison was given significant time on the powerplay in the NHL as he was a key part of the team's second unit for most of the year. I'm not sure if the team will continue to use him there since the Canes are over-populated with offensive defensemen as it is but he may get a look or two. He might also get an extended look on the powerplay when Joni Pitkanen inevitably misses time with an injury. I'm projecting him to get less than a minute per game on the powerplay for now, though.
|Year||PPG||PPG/60||PP SOG/60||PP Sh%|
The funny thing about Harrison being used on the powerplay is that he was actually really, really good when it came to producing shots and scoring chances. However, I'm not sure if he was actually this good or if his rate just looks high because he did well in limited ice time. That makes it very difficult to project how well he will do on the powerplay next season, so the safe thing to do is just take the overall average from the last four years and roll with it. If Harrison ends up playing less than a minute per game on the powerplay next year then the results are going to be largely unpredictable.
|Year||PPA||PPA/60||PP SF/60||PP On-ice Sh%|
Again, we are working with a very small sample size, so it's hard to make a projection based on any of this data here. Harrison could end up being on-ice for as few as 40-50 powerplay shots in an 82 game season and anything can happen in that kind of sample size. With the minutes I have Harrison projected to play, it's safe to assume that his powerplay assist total could end up being anywhere from 0-5. Again, this might change in the event of an injury but it's hard for me to see Harrison getting powerplay minutes over Pitkanen, Faulk, McBain or Corvo right now. He'll be second duty at most.
I mentioned this in my projection for Joni Pitkanen, but it's much more difficult to predict the point totals for defensemen because their even strength production tends to be more random than that of forwards. This is likely because most of them have fewer shots and their point totals are often dependent on the players around them. Harrison is probably more difficult to project than Pitkanen because I have him playing such fewer minutes on the powerplay and most of his points are going to come from what he does at even strength.
Going by what we do know, we can expect Harrison to play around 16 minutes per game at even strength (my personal projection is 16.1 min/G) and his shot rate should stay around the 3-4 ESSOG/60 rate he posted over the last two seasons. I have Harrison posting a shot rate of 3.4 ESSOG/60 minutes, which would give him about 74 shots in an 82 game season. Going by his career numbers, Harrison could score anywhere from 0-6 goals at even strength and since I have him experiencing some shooting regression this year, my projected even strength goal total for him is 3-4 goals.
I also said earlier that I expect Harrison to get some time playing behind the Carolina top-six, which means I'm not expecting his shot rate to change much. That being said, I think he will be on-ice for fewer shots at even strength than he was last season, but it won't be a severe drop-off. The only way that would happen is if he gets bumped to the third pairing and is constantly sent out with the fourth line. Even then, Harrison would probably get a zone start push in those situations, so his shot rate still may not be effected that much.
My projection is for Harrison to be on ice for 29.8 ESSF/60 minutes and that would put him on ice for about 635 total even strength shots. This will put him on-ice for anywhere from 39-56 even strength goals and since I'm expecting Harrison's on-ice shooting percentage to increase this year, I have him on-ice for 45 goals. Harrison has recorded an assist on 25.3% of the even strength goal he ha been on-ice for over the last four years and if that continues, it would give him 11-12 even strength assists on the season. This is the same amount as he has last season, which might sound disappointing since I have his on-ice shooting percentage go up, but that evens out when you consider that I have him on-ice for fewer shots on goal than last season.
Harrison's powerplay production is going to be very random and unpredictable so I won't have much of a projection for this part. There is only so much a player can do when he's given limited powerplay minutes like I'm projecting Harrison to. He is probably going to have somewhere between 0-5 powerplay points when all is said and done.
82 Game Projection
|Harrison 2012-13||ESG||ESA||PPG||PPA||SHG||SHA||Total Pts||PPG/82|
I have Harrison finishing an 82 game season with four fewer goals and one fewer assist than last season. When you consider that Harrison was on the receiving end of a lot of shooting luck last year and will be spending less time on the powerplay, it's easy to see his point total taking a step back from what it was last season. The amount of assists he ends up with could be the one x-factor that gets him over 20 points because that is going to largely depend on the amount of shots he is on-ice for, which could really go either way depending on who his linemates are. I said earlier that I expected him to stay with the top-six for most of the year, but that could still put him on-ice for fewer than 30 shots per 60 minutes if he is assigned a defensive role. There are just so many things that are up in the air for Harrison that I'm not sure what will happen as far as his point total is concerned.
Whenever you run into a situation like this, it's always best to take the more conservative route and that's what I've done with Harrison's projection. If he gets more powerplay time, then he could easily top it but that remains to be seen.