Before the 2010-11 season began, expectations for the Hurricanes rookie defenseman Jamie McBain, were high. His performance in the final 14 games of 2010, when he made his NHL debut, made him an instant favorite. With 3 goals on top of 7 assists and +6 over the span, McBain had arrived with a splash and fans were eager to see what the 22 year old was going to bring next. Symbolic of his new role as a future defensive leader with the club, over the summer he changed to jersey #4, usually associated with top blueline talent in the NHL.
As happens often enough, the rookie seemed to stumble a bit as the new season began. By the end of calendar 2010, 36 games into the season, McBain had managed 8 assists and one goal. With those anemic stats, and a performance on ice that lacked the confidence needed to play 20+ minutes in the NHL all season, the rising star had seemingly lost some of the luster.
I'll admit I was among those wondering in November if he had been rushed and would be better off getting some time in Charlotte to regain some of his mojo. Some AHL games, with reduced pressure and speed, would allow him to re-learn the patience with the puck and decisiveness that had gone missing. However, we were assured that McBain, not unlike Eric Staal, is a perennial slow starter, and this was just another typical year; come spring we'd see him find his groove. And, in the end, that's pretty much how it played out.
|2010 - Jamie McBain||76||7||23||30||-8||32||1||2||95||19:06||41||117|
Comparisons to other defensemen
Earlier this week, Bob looked at some numbers related to the Canes pairings in 2010-11, including relative TOI and production in his post Defensive Pairings: A Closer Look - which is a must-read if you haven't yet. There you'll see McBain was paired mostly (nearly 49% of the time) with Joni Pitkanen and, during even strength situations, those two produced more points than any other Carolina combination. After Pitkanen, McBain was matched with Tim Gleason 17% of his time on ice.
Overall, McBain's average TOI (19:06) was fourth most behind PItkanen (25:01), Joe Corvo (24:46) and Gleason (20:57).
McBain's 7 goals were second only to Corvo (11); Pitkanen had 5. Adding in assists, Corvo had 40 points, Pitkanen had 35, with McBain third at 30.
McBain was credited with 117 blocked shots, just behind Corvo at 119. Gleason (141) and Pitkanen (130) were ahead of both of them on this.
For context, remember that McBain was the Canes second round pick (63rd overall) in 2006 (which was of course their first pick of that post-Cup Draft). He had great success playing in the NCAA at Wisconsin and was a finalist for the prestigious Hobey Baker Award in 2009. He turned pro that spring joining the Albany River Rats at the end of their 08-09 season.
Indeed, McBain was a second-half performer, with 6 (of his 7) goals plus 15 assists in the 40 games beginning January 1st on. His contributions in January also earned him a last minute invitation to the All-Star Rookie group; that experience seemed to provide a welcome boost. McBain ended up tied for 4th among rookie defensemen for goals scored at the end of the season.
Perhaps it was the stability of adding the bigger and grittier Bryan Allen, and later Derek Joslin, to the roster in February and March that finally enabled him to better fulfill his role as a puck-mover, easing some of the responsibility as a physical shut-down player, which at 23, he is not.
As a young rookie, this season was as much on-the-job training, for him to gain experience and "learn the League". McBain's partner, Joni Pitkanen, is a unique talent to show him the ropes, but the Finn's occasionally surprising on-ice decisions have been a challenge for many others before McBain. Still, as Bob noted Tuesday, they found success leading the team for even strength points with 21.
For one of his best performances, let's look at a key match vs Buffalo on March 3. He already had a primary assist on a well timed pinch [video], when he clinched the game with a goal in OT, just 26 secs into the extra frame. Pitkanen also shows some fine hockey skills setting up the play before he finds McBain ready to shoot from his favorite spot, just above the right circle.
Again, the expectations that were established by McBain's achievements in March and April 2010 led many of us to wonder what was wrong the following fall. McBain is known for his superb passing and his patience in finding an open lane; neither of those were outstanding in the early going.
Further, and really throughout the season, it was clear that though he has good size (6-2, 200lbs), he still needs to gain strength to compete at the highest level and win key battles for the puck.
No defenseman who played the full season for the Canes delivered fewer hits than McBain (41). He also injured his shoulder with an awkward collision at the Verizon Center in March; he took off 5 games before coming back, ahead of schedule. He had surgery shortly after the season was over and is expected to be 100% when camp starts next month.
Plenty of last year's struggles for the Canes can be attributed to Cam Ward's facing the most shots of any goalie this season; Carolina owned a league-worst average of 33.2 shots against per game. While the entire team can be held responsible for this, the defensive corps especially needs to improve in this area going forward and deny opposing teams so much time and space in the Carolina defensive zone.
McBain just completed the second year of his 3-year Entry Level Contract; by any measure he was a bargain in "bang for the buck". His actual salary for 2010-11 was $600,000 and, factoring in various bonuses, CapGeek tells us his cap hit works out to $850,000.
Next season, McBain will still be the youngest of the Canes defenseman under contract and, with Corvo gone, he is now the only right shot the Canes have. With 7 NHLers signed by Jim Rutherford, it is relevant that McBain is now eligible for waivers and we can safely assume he won't see any time in the AHL again. If he doesn't perform as well as the others, he will be a scratch.
At the end of the 11-12 season, McBain will be a restricted free agent, as Brandon Sutter was this summer. His performance in this his sophomore year will no doubt be the determining factor in both salary and term length of the new contract.
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