Training Camp Battles: 6th Defenseman

Training camp has begun in Raleigh and I think it’s safe to say that the first five starting spots on the defense are set in stone. Unless a terrible injury happens, those five spots consist of Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Tomas Kaberle, Bryan Allen and Jamie McBain. The question is who will play the sixth spot and play on the third pairing to start the year? The Canes certainly have their options to fill that spot whether it’s using the same personnel as last year or finding younger options.

I see five players contesting for that last spot but before we break them down, we have to consider what the team’s defense corps needs right now. We have three guys capable of providing offense in Pitkanen, Kaberle and McBain and two more defensive-minded players with Gleason and Allen. Pitkanen provides a little of both sides and may have his defensive role increased as the season goes on, so this is subject to change. As of right now, what the Canes need from their sixth defenseman is someone who can kill penalties and preferably someone with a more defensive game.

Which one of the five candidates can give Carolina that?

First Contestant: Jay Harrison

Why would he be a good fit?

Harrison is essentially what we’re looking for in a sixth defenseman. He can block shots well, has a pretty big frame, kills penalties and can get physical with forwards in his own zone. Harrison also played 72 games with the team last year and was recently given a new contract (and a cheap one at that) so he’s familiar with this system and knows his role. Harrison also saw the toughest zone starts among the team’s defense, so he can step into this role with almost no problems.

Why wouldn’t he be a good fit?

Harrison may have saw the toughest zone starts, but it was in a third pairing role which means he saw some very weak competition and that is correct. Harrison’s numbers are decent for someone who isn’t depended on for offense but he’s going to be 29 by November and last year was his first full season in the NHL. In other words, this is probably the best we’re going to get out of him and it’s not much.

Final Thoughts:

Harrison has a good chance to make the team because he’s the incumbent and fits the role we’re looking for but the defense would not be better than it was last season if he was put into the lineup. It wouldn’t be worse, but I don’t think he’s going to be any better than he was last season unless he can start taking on tougher competition or playing more minutes. I am still iffy on Bryan Allen staying in a top-4 role throughout the season and someone may have to take over for him soon. Could he be Harrison? Maybe, but he’s going to have to do more than what’s asked of him.

Second Contestant: Derek Joslin

Why Would He Be A Good Fit?

Joslin played well with the team down the stretch (.503 corsi%, .573 SC%) but he only played in 17 games, which makes the data not completely valid. Joslin is not a bad candidate for a sixth defenseman, though as he possesses a good two-way game and can contribute on both the powerplay and penalty kill. That goes a long way with players lower on the depth chart. Also, he’s still pretty young (24) and we don’t exactly have an idea of what his ceiling is, even though I don’t think we’re looking at a future star here.

Why Wouldn’t He Be A Good Fit?

He’s not as solid in his own zone as Harrison and has issues with net coverage which could hurt him when battling for a roster spot. He’s also never played a full NHL season before (but has played in 70 games at the NHL level) and players who take more than four years to become NHL regulars usually don’t amount to anything great. It’s almost the same issue as Harrison where it doesn’t look like Joslin will upgrade our defense but the diffence is that we know what Harrison can do while a lot about Joslin is still up in the air.

Final Thoughts:

As I mentioned earlier, this is the same issue as Harrison but we still don’t know what Joslin’s full potential is. Joslin’s versatility would be nice to have on the team and too much offense from the blue-line is never a bad thing. There’s the possibility that Joslin could be a stud or a complete turnstile at the NHL level. Only one way to find out. 

Third Contestant: Justin Faulk

Why Would He Be A Good Fit?

Generally, when you have a prospect who has looked great against pro competition, you want to promote him to the highest level as quick as possible and Faulk has done nothing but impress his entire career. We saw him do it in college, in the AHL playoffs and in the Traverse tournamnet. There’s a very high possibility that he could blow people away in training camp and be called up to the main roster.

Why Wouldn’t He Be A Good Fit?

Faulk’s mainly an offensive defenseman and that’s not what we’re looking for in his spot, especially if he’s going to be paired with McBain. He’s also never played a full pro season before and I would like to see him get more time in Charlotte before he’s in Carolina full-time. 

Final Thoughts:

Faulk will likely be in Charlotte to start the season unless he is so good that the team feels they need him and can’t keep him in the AHL. I don’t really like rushing rookie players (especially one who is only 19) but Faulk just seems to take advantage of every opportunity he’s given so there could be a chance we see him in Raleigh come October. I still think giving him a full season in Charlotte is the best bet.

Fourth Contestant: Bobby Sanguinetti

Why Would He Be A Good Fit?

He has played well in the AHL for both Hartford and Charlotte so it might be his turn to get a chance on the roster to fill the sixth defenseman spot. He took on more of a defensive role last season and played decently so him challenging for the spot isn’t out of the question.

Why Wouldn’t He be A Good Fit?

With so little NHL experience, Sanguinetti will really need to impress to make the big club out of camp. His ceiling isn’t nearly as high as Faulk either so that gives him a bigger hill to climb. He’s also not the most durable or physical defenseman in this sample.

Final Thoughts:

I think Sanguinetti will have to show that he can take on NHL level forwards if he wants to make that final roster spot because his frame is pretty small and that may be a problem even if he faces weak competition.

Fifth Contestant: Ryan Murphy

Why Would He Be A Good Fit?

I didn’t think Murphy would have a chance at making the team out of camp but he was very impressive in the Traverse tournament so there’s a slight possibility now. He fits into the same category as Faulk where he may be too good and beneficial to the team that we can’t send him back to Kitchener. Plus, he could be what a struggling powerplay needs.

Why Wouldn’t He Be A Good Fit?

He is only 18, fresh out of junior hockey and an offensive defneseman so he will need to get the benefit of protection with the Hurricanes. I don’t know if he can do that in a third pairing role so it makes me doubtful that he will be on the team. There’s no point of having a player like him on the team if he’s going to get only 10-12 minutes nightly, which is very possible.

Final Thoughts:

If Murphy doesn’t make the team out of camp, he has to go back to Kitchener. However, if the Canes elect not to send him back to Kitchener, then he can’t go to the AHL because he’s only played two years of junior hockey. It will be very tough to send him to Kitchener if he is that good in the pre-season but I think that’s the best think for his development now. If we really need an offensive defenseman or if someone gets hurt, we can call-up Faulk instead. At least for next year.

 

The way I see it, two of these defenseman will make the club as one will be kept for depth purposes and spend a few nights in the press box before he gets his first action of the season.

Who do you see making the team?

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