If you were to go a Hurricanes game at the PNC Arena and ask 100 different Canes fans for their opinion on the team’s young defenseman Jamie McBain, you would get a wide range of opinions. Some people see a solid young defenseman who is improving every year, others see a good offensive defenseman who has trouble playing in his own zone and there are some who believe that he is a complete liability and shouldn’t be in the NHL. No matter what your thoughts are on McBain, the Hurricanes front office sees him as part of the team’s future as they recently decided to re-sign him to a two-year contract.
As for McBain’s performance with the team this year, he started the season as a healthy scratch but eventually worked his way back into the lineup and was used in many different roles in the defense corps. Seeing how he is only 24 and this was his second full season in the league, McBain still has plenty of time to grow but the question is what kind of player will he be in a few years and will he fit on the Hurricanes? That is unknown right now but after this season, most fans should have a better idea of McBain’s future and how high his ceiling is.
The Hurricanes saw McBain at his best and at his worst this year and most of the time, it related to how he was being used by the coaching staff. We examined that point not too long ago but after the jump, we will take an even closer look at the ups and downs of McBain’s season and see what it means heading into next year.
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Most fans know McBain for his offensive talents and he did deliver on that front this season. McBain led all Carolina defensemen in points with 27 and assists with 19. He was also tied with Justin Faulk for the team defense high in powerplay goals (5) and ranked second in shots on goal with 127, only one behind Jay Harrison. When it came to getting shots on goal and driving the play forward, McBain also performed very well. Only Jaroslav Spacek was on-ice for more shots on goal per 60 minutes than McBain was last season. McBain’s 3.4 Corsi Relative rating shows that he was able to keep the puck in the offensive zone more often than his teammates, as well. He was also effective at creating scoring chances as he ranked third among Carolina blue-liners in chances created relative to his ice time. Seeing how one of his primary objectives was to provide offense from the back-end, it’s hard to say that McBain wasn’t doing his job. He was able to create chances, push the puck forward and produce points, especially on the powerplay.
McBain’s versatility is another thing that makes him a nice player to have at your disposal. He spent most of his rookie season playing alongside Joni Pitkanen, which means that he has experience logging big minutes and his 6’2" frame makes him a tough matchup for smaller forwards. He is good enough defensively that he doesn’t need to be protected, but his offensive instincts make him more suited for a sheltered, powerplay QB type of role. It seems that the coaching staff is close to figuring out that this is the type of role that McBain is best suited for right now. The fact that he was very disciplined helps out, too.
Some might be concerned with McBain’s development but when you compare him to other defensemen in his age group, there doesn’t appear to be much to worry about. He isn’t nearly in the same class as the likes of Marc Staal or Marc-Edouard Vlasic but he is capable as a 2nd/3rd pairing defenseman, and that is about in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the group. Yes, it would be nice to see him take that next step but I don’t think there will be much complaining if he turns into a solid powerplay QB who can play top-four minutes. Although, that might change depending on how the younger defensemen in the team’s system develop.
McBain is one of those players where you have to take a lot of bad with the good. We all know that McBain didn’t have much trouble at creating offense, but preventing shots and chances against was another story. For every scoring chance that McBain produced, he gave back just as many in his own end. That is evidenced by his scoring chance data and the amount of shots he was on ice for. Only Joni Pitkanen was on ice for more shots against at even strength. He was also on ice for almost three goals for every 60 minutes he played at even strength. The real-time stats paint a similar picture, trust them as much as you want. He had 30 takeaways but also gave the puck away 40 times.
Earlier I mentioned that a third pairing role better suits McBain right now and that’s because he was exposed more than a few times when he was used in tougher situations. His WOWY is evidence of that as he was most successful when he played with Jaro Spacek as his defense partner. Both him and Spacek were used against easier competition and started regularly in the offensive zone, which showed that McBain was able to succeed when he was sheltered. The injury to Pitkanen forced a lot of defensemen to have their limits tested this season and McBain certainly did before Spacek’s arrival (and during the many games that he missed with a myriad of injuries). McBain struggled as a result and we know that he isn’t quite ready to be a top-pairing defenseman on this team just yet.
Also, for a guy of his size, McBain had a tendency to play the puck a lot more than he played the body against forwards. He was only credited with 15 hits in 66 games. That along with his low amount of penalties taken suggests that he wasn’t very physical this year and he might need to add that edge to his game if he wants to be a defenseman that can be used in all situations.
McBain was in the final year of his entry-level contract that paid him $850,000 this season. He is another example of the Hurricanes being able to get good value out of players in their ELC years as McBain played a lot of roles on this team, most of which would have cost the Canes more in free agency. He was recently re-signed to a two-year contract worth $1.8 mil. in cap space. As of right now, this looks like a fair deal for him because McBain played top-four minutes during his time here and has the potential to improve on it. How this deal will look by the end of next year will depend on how McBain performs. Regardless, the Hurricanes shouldn’t have too much to worry about unless McBain severely regresses.
The Final Word:
McBain still has a lot of holes in his game to correct but he did make some improvements compared to last season. He has a lot more awareness in the offensive zone now and he made fewer bad pinches than he did last season. He’s never going to be a top-level defenseman but as a 2nd/3rd pairing guy, he is a solid option and that is probably what he will be in the long run. However, he might need to keep improving his all-around game and take things to a higher level next season with Ryan Murphy and Brian Dumoulin looking for roster spots. He has the size to be a good two-way defenseman but his quality of play isn’t quite there yet.
What grade would you give McBain’s season with the Hurricanes this year? If he exceeded your expectations, give him an A. If he met them and didn’t wow you, give him a C. If he completely let you down give him an F. Explain your vote and explain your thoughts on McBain and his performance this season. What do you think his ceiling is? Were you happy that he was extended? What role do you want him to play next year?