There isn’t much to say about Jamie McBain that hasn’t already been gone over because he was the focal point of a lot of discussion among Carolina fans this year. He started off the year as a healthy scratch but he quickly made his way back into the lineup and the injury to Joni Pitkanen along with the eventual trade of Tomas Kaberle opened up a lot of new doors for him. As a result, Carolina fans got to see McBain at his best and at his worst plenty of times this season so there were a lot of different opinions of him going around.
You aren’t going to find many people saying that McBain is an emerging star, but a good amount of Carolina fans see him as a key part of the Carolina defense corps since he has regularly played big minutes in his young NHL career. On the other side of the coin, you have people who see McBain as a defensive liability and a player who constantly makes them want to throw objects at their television sets because he always seemed to be involved in the play when the opposing team scores. So which side is correct here?
I have watched McBain closely through this past season and have determined that McBain is roughly in the middle of the two ends of the spectrum. McBain supplied a lot of the Hurricanes offense this year as he was on ice for a little over four scoring chances at even strength per 15 minutes, which is a pretty good rate for a defenseman. The problem? He was on ice for about the same amount of scoring chances against at even strength, so McBain was giving a lot back at the other end, as well. McBain was still the Hurricanes third highest ranked defenseman in even strength scoring chance differential despite that. He also ranked second among Carolina defensemen in corsi relative, showing that he was slightly better at driving possession than his teammates.
That may come as a surprise to some Carolina fans because for most of the season, it seemed like the Canes didn’t know what they were going to do with McBain. If having too many puck-moving defenseman is an embarrassment of riches then that is what the Hurricanes have on their hands right now. With so many of these players in the system (and many of them on the NHL team), some of them are going to be forced into roles that they aren’t ready for and the Hurricanes tried to do this with McBain after Pitkanen was injured. McBain was promoted to the shutdown pair with Tim Gleason for most of December and was then bumped back down to the third pairing with Jaroslav Spacek after he returned from injury sometime in January. It was in the latter role which McBain began to shine.
Spacek and McBain were utilized mostly in offensive situations and McBain really excelled in this role. These two were the Hurricanes best defense pairing at controlling scoring chances last season and part of the reason was due to the fact that they received the softest minutes on the team. They were rarely matched up against the opposing team’s top-six, started most of their shifts in the offensive zone (this applies to Spacek more than McBain) and played fewer minutes than the rest of the defense. So while these two made the most of their ice time and took advantage of their softer minutes, they were still given a push by the coaching staff and that played a big role in their success as a unit.
Something positive that you can take away from the last two years is that McBain has proven himself as a capable third pairing defenseman. His main responsibilities involve creating offense, moving the puck out of the defensive zone and working the powerplay, all three being areas that McBain is skilled in and has done for Carolina since his arrival. He has also been called upon to do more in the event of an injury but the results have been mixed in those situations. You can see from McBain’s WOWY that he and Joni Pitkanen have struggled in a top-four role and McBain does not kill penalties either, so it has left some people worried about his development and what his supposed ceiling is.
It might be frustrating to look at McBain right now if you compare him to Justin Faulk, but I honestly do not think there is much to be concerned about with the rate McBain is developing at. Defensemen in general take a long time to mature and McBain is only 24 years old, so he still has time to grow and could possibly develop into a more dependable top-four option in due time. As of right now, he is a very good third pairing defenseman and a borderline top-four guy, which is roughly in line with most defensemen who are in his age group. Compare him to Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, Nikita Nikitin or Karl Alzner and you’re going to be disappointed but McBain’s play isn’t too far off from the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk, Luca Sbisa, Jason Demers and Cody Franson. None of those players are stars, but they are all useful defensemen on their respective teams and have a decent amount of potential, as well.
Whether or not McBain will live up to that potential remains to be seen but as of right now, he is an everyday player for the Hurricanes and a very solid third pairing defenseman. Carolina decided to reward him with a two year contract extension with a $1.8 mil. cap hit, which is where his value is now as a third-pairing defenseman. The Hurricanes should have plenty of time to evaluate McBain over the next couple of years and determine whether or not they see him in the team’s long-term plans. We know that he is a good bottom-pairing guy right now and has the potential to do more, but McBain could have to step into a bigger role in the next couple of years if he wants to stay in Carolina after his new deal runs out. I said this earlier, but the Canes have a lot of puck-moving defensemen in their system and while McBain has an advantage over the rest since he is in the NHL right now, he might have to do more in the next couple of years to make himself stand out.
McBain is fine where he is right now but there is always room for improvement, and with the Hurricanes needing someone to play with Tim Gleason, McBain has a good chance to show that he can be more than what he has shown so far.