Training Camp Battles: Third Pairing Defenseman

Fixing the defense has been the focal point of the Hurricanes off-season and GM Jim Rutherford has done a decent job to address Carolina's needs by acquiring both Andrej Sekera and Ron Hainsey. The defense still isn't anywhere close to being perfect, but adding Hainsey makes them a lot better than they were initially and the Canes have a relatively solid top-four now. With that ironed out, all that is left to do is buld solid depth on the third pairing, which will be more important than some think.

Last season, the Hurricanes entered the year with a defense that was over-populated with third-pairing guys and relied on their top-pairing to carry the load for basically the entire season. This led to a lot of problems when the injuries hit, as they ended up having guys who would be 4th or 5th defensemen on a contending play top-pairing minutes for about half of the season. This is why it is important to find value when it comes to building depth defense, whether it's through young players or finding a good free agent who may have been passed over by other teams.

Do the Hurricanes have this kind of depth right now, though? If Pitkanen were healthy, I would say so but obviously that isn't the case. They have plenty of guys who can play a third pairing role if needed, but they might need more than that if the injury bug infects them again. As of right now, the Canes have five healthy defenseman on the roster with Faulk, Gleason, Sekera and one or Harrison or Hainsey playing top-four minutes. With Rutherford saying that the team can carry up to eight defensemen, it looks like the Canes are going to put a lot of faith in their younger players to round out their defense depth. With a high-end player like Ryan Murphy in the system, this could turn out to be a nice experiment but it could also turn out poorly if some of these players don't work out. Being able to get all eight of them in the lineup on a consistent basis could prove to a problem too, especially during the regular season.

I don't know if we'll see the team carry eight defenseman, but they do have a lot in camp right now and I expect that at least two of them will make the team to join the five listed earlier. Who is the best fit for this role, though? Ideally, the Hurricanes are going to be looking someone with a right-hand shot who can play outside the third pairing if needed. The ability to work the power play or kill penalties is also a plus, although not completely necessary. When looking at the player's in camp, they have a couple of guys who might be able to do this.

Candidate One: Ryan Murphy
Age: 20
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 176 lbs.
Career Stats

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

All indications are that Murphy will get every chance to make the team and the coaching staff always gives him big minutes when he is in the lineup. I'm not sure if he is ready for that yet, but almost everyone in the Canes coaching staff believes that Murphy is ready for the NHL and are going to give him a long look in camp. He has been one of the last players cut in the last two seasons and now that the OHL isn't an option, he could be in Raleigh to stay. Murphy also adds an element to their game that they'll be missing with Pitkanen out of the lineup, which is the ability to move the puck and jump into the play. Faulk could potentially do this too, but Murphy possesses more offensive skill and can run the first power play unit if needed. Even if Murphy is utilized in a Marc-Andre Bergeron sort of way, he could still be on the team for the entire season and be a useful player. Expect a lot of him during the pre-season, especially after the second round of roster cuts.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

Murphy is one of the few fringe players on the roster who is exempt from waivers and I don't think a year in the AHL is going to stunt his development at all. He has more of an upside than anyone else in camp and can be a top-four guy if everything goes right, but he may not be ready for that just yet. If Murphy's defensive play is still as bad as it is advertised, he probably won't play beyond the third pairing and if that's the case, it would make more sense for the Canes to keep someone like Bellemore, Corrente or Jordan over him. Murphy has the freedom to go to the AHL and they can always call him up later in the season. Unless Murphy has a really strong pre-season or the Canes really need power play help, I think keeping Murphy in the AHL wouldn't be a terrible idea.

Candidate Two: Mike Komisarek
Age: 31
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 243 lbs.
Career Stats

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

Komisarek has a one-way deal and a no-movement clause, so he will be on the Hurricanes no matter what. The question is whether or not he will get any playing time and I think he will for the first few games. What happens after that is anyone's guess. The Hurricanes have wanted a defenseman of Komisarek's type for awhile and it's been said that playing in a smaller market could help him turn his career around. I wouldn't go that far, but if all they are asking out of him is to play 12-14 minutes a night and not get destroyed in his own end, then Komisarek might be able to do that. He could also help on the penalty kill, which would be a major plus if he is any good there.

Why he won't make stay on the Hurricanes:

If you remember my post on Komisarek from July, I basically said that he hasn't been a serviceable NHL defenseman in over three years and the odds of him finding his groove now that he is in a smaller market seem kind of slim. He also wasn't very good during his prime years either, as almost all of his defense partners saw their ability to prevent shots & control territorial play go down whenever they were paired with him at even strength. If he is used with someone who can move the puck, he might be okay but there is a good chance that won't happen, especially if he is going to be sheltered (which he should be). Unless Muller wants to insert him in the lineup for size/toughness/whatever, I can't see Komisarek staying for long unless he pulls a complete 180 from the last three years.

Candidate Three: Brett Bellemore

Age: 25
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 210 lbs.

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

Bellemore impressed a lot of people in his seven-game stint with the team last year and the front office seems to be pretty high on him. He also fills a need as a solid, but mobile, defensive defenseman who can be good on the third pairing. He is also a right-handed shot, so he should be able to fit in without much of a problem. Bellemore is also someone who can kill penalties and do everything that Komisarek used to be good at. There isn't much left for Bellemore to learn in the AHL, so this will probably be the year if we find out that he is an NHL-er or not.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

While Bellemore's stint with the Canes last year was impressive, it was only seven games and not an overall reflection of his play. You generally need about 20 games or so to get an idea of what a player is all about and Bellemore hasn't seen enough time in the NHL for us to know if he is ready. It might be tough for him to get a shot with only one spot open, but he shouldn't have an issue with earning it if he can play as well as he did last year. Bellemore's ceiling also isn't very high and might only be a depth defenseman at the NHL level and the Hurricanes could be looking for more than that, even if they only need a third-pairing guy right now.

Candidate Four: Michal Jordan
Age: 23
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 186 lbs.

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

Jordan is another player who doesn't have much left to learn in the AHL and needs to pass through waivers before returning there. I don't think there is a lot of concern over him being claimed, but Jordan could be someone who helps the team now. He played the toughs in Charlotte and has a decent all-around game that could transition well to the next level. He didn't look too bad in the few games he played in Raleigh last season and the coaching staff has some familiarity with him, at the very least.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

There are a lot of things that will prevent Jordan from earning a roster spot. Him being a left-handed shot being one of them along with his skating still being his weakest asset. He doesn't have much to learn in the AHL, but I don't think he is anything more than a third pairing guy right now and there are other players in camp who bring more to the table.

Candidate Five: Matt Corrente

Age: 25
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 205 lbs.

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

Corrente is still in camp and needs waivers to go to the AHL, so he could get a decent look if the Canes only need someone for their third pairing. He plays a solid, safe defensive game and that's about what the Hurricanes are looking for right now. At the very least, he provides a cheap depth option and has 34 games of NHL experience under his belt. He could be an alternative to Bellemore if he doesn't work out in the NHL.

Why he won't make the Hurricanes:

It has been two years since Corrente was last in the NHL and his results in that year weren't particularly good. He was mainly used as a depth defenseman with the Devils and at 25, he will probably stay at that level for most of his career. He is likely going to begin in the year in the AHL and take over for one of Bellemore or Jordan there. I could see him getting a call-up some time during the season, though.

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