Rookie Jeff Skinner is getting a lot of attention these days, and deservedly so, but the Carolina Hurricanes have another rookie in the lineup who might be considered a "dark horse" candidate to win the Calder Trophy.
Defenseman Jamie McBain has quietly started this season much like he finished off last year, with some adept passing in the offensive zone. In game one against Minnesota, the blueliner zipped a perfect pass to Jussi Jokinen, who then found Brandon Sutter in front of the net. Sutter promptly knocked in the team's first powerplay tally of the season.
These types of plays are nothing new for McBain, who showed the Caniac Nation what he was capable of during his short stint with the team at the end of last season as he tallied 10 points in just 14 games.
Recently, I had the chance to speak to the defenseman and started out by asking him about his goals for the coming season.
"In the back of my head, I have some goals that I'd like to hit," McBain said. "I know I'm capable of putting up points, that's part of my game, so the points are going to come. I just need to work on being consistent, day in and day out."
The rookie has good reason to be quietly confident about his scoring. He's been successfully racking up points at every level.
In 2006 while representing Team USA at the World Juniors, (under 18), he tallied 11 points in just 6 games and helped his team to win gold. During his final year at the University of Wisconsin, he scored 37 points in 40 games and was a Hobey Baker Finalist, the award given to college hockey's best player.
Last season in Albany he registered 40 points in 68 games before he came to Carolina, where again, he put up another 10 points in 14 games.
The offense is certainly there, but what about other aspects of his game? How does he feel about that?
"I have always felt that my defense is pretty good, but when you are up against the bigger, stronger guys in this league, like the Ovechkins, it's tough to contain them. So I have been working on my strength and how I can use my stick better to control them and get the puck up to the forwards as quickly as possible."
The defenseman is not completely satisfied with his offense though.
"I'm also working on my shot everyday to make sure it stays consistent, so that I'm able to get the shot through, to give our forwards a chance at it at the net."
While McBain says that he will not be out there looking for the big hit, he is trying to be more physical with his play.
"I've worked hard over the offseason on my upper body strength because when you're up against these bigger, faster guys, you need to get them off the puck and push them around. It's part of my game that I'm definitely working on, trying to close the gaps faster. I'm not going to be out there looking for hits, but if they come to me, I'll make sure to be physical against guys in the corners and stuff like that. But my game is always going to be getting the puck and moving it, and trying to be an offensive threat. But if physical moments present themselves, I'm not going to shy away."
McBain isn't exactly a smallish player. He's listed at 6'2, 200 pounds and he could still fill out his body a bit more. But it doesn't seem likely the Hurricanes are looking for him to be overly physical. He's projected to be the team's powerplay quarterback for years to come and he just might jump into that role in a big way this season.
It's unusual for a blueliner to win rookie of the year honors in the NHL, but Tyler Myers did it last year in Buffalo. Myers led all Sabres defensemen in ice time and had other tremendous stats as well. In the scoring column, he finished with 11 goals and 37 assists for a total of 48 points.
While McBain won't lead this team in ice time, (unless Corvo and Pitkanen both get hurt), he is capable of putting up those kind of numbers. Although even if he does put up those points, he is still probably the longshot of dark horses to win the Calder.
Regardless, whether it's determined that he is the NHL's best rookie or not, he's going to be fun to watch this year.