Carolina’s young defenseman Jamie McBain is probably one of my favorite players to analyze because the fanbase’s opinion always on him always seems to be split. On one hand, people see a skilled player who is slowly, but surely, adjusting to the NHL and will be a great top-four defenseman in the next couple of years. Then you have the people who see him as a complete liability on defense and should be dealt for a team that needs a puck-mover. There are also individuals in the same crowd who think that he should be moved to make room for Ryan Murphy, the Hurricanes’ first round pick from last year.
I have discussed McBain many times in the past and have determined a few things. The first of which is that he isn’t quite ready to play tough minutes yet and was most effective when used in a third-pairing role with Jaroslav Spacek. In addition to that, I said McBain is good enough that he doesn’t need to be completely protected and that his most recent season wasn’t much different from how he performed in 2010-11. He just looked worse when he was being used in tough situations that he likely wasn’t ready for.
McBain has his flaws and probably isn’t going to be a top-pairing defenseman but it is my opinion that he hasn’t been nearly as bad as a lot of fans have made him out to be. That being said, I think that he has his limits and I do question whether or not he has the ability to play tough minutes in the future. He doesn’t need to play this kind of role, but it would make him a much more valuable player if he does. Justin Faulk playing a top-four role at only 19 years of age is another thing that probably made McBain look worse than he really is, since he is 24 and has struggled in similar situations.
There are a couple things to remember with that last point. 1) Defenseman in general take a long time to develop. Faulk is an exception to this rule. 2) At 24, McBain is still relatively young and this season was only his second full-year in the NHL. Saying that he will never be a good defenseman now when he has played a top-four role and posted decent to good possession metrics on a bad possession team is just silly.
Where is McBain in his development, though? It seems like the "peak age" for players is getting younger each year in the NHL so it would be good to know where McBain stands compared to other defensemen his age. We will explore this issue after the jump.
First, we will take a look at some of McBain’s comparable players to get an idea of what kind of player he would be on other teams. On the Hurricanes, he was used in a variety of different ways, but he ended up ranking towards the bottom half in terms of quality of competition and in the middle of the pack in zone starts (51.5%). This means that the coaching staff protected him, but not to the point where they saw him as a defensively liability. Here are some defensemen who were used in similar situations this season.
|Player||Rel. QoC||OZ%||Corsi Rel.||TOI/60||Age||P/60|
Rel. QOC = Corsi relative to quality of competition, OZ% = offensive zone start percentage, Corsi Rel. = Corsi relative, TOI/60 = even strength time on ice per 60 minutes, P/60 = even strength points per 60 minutes.
Everyone on this list is a either a second or third pairing defenseman and is at least somewhat sheltered in terms of who they face on the ice (which isn’t surprising since that’s how I grouped them). I would put McBain in the middle to upper tier of this pack because he plays more minutes than over half ot he players on the list and is a little better at driving possession than some of the guys who play in similar situatinos in regards to zone starts (Schenn, Stralman, Staurt, Peckham). McBain is about in the middle of the pack in even strength point production and he is also tied with Theo Peckham as the second youngest player on the list.
Going by that, we can say that McBain is a decent 2nd pairing/good 3rd pairing defenseman and has a good chance of being better than most of the guys on this list because of his age. Where does he stand compared to other defensemen his age, though? To find that out, I looked at the situations that all the 23-25 year old defensemen from this year are being used in and plotted them on the graph below.
This list includes, Karl Alzner, Justin Falk, Jack Johnson, Carl Gunnarsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jeff Petry, Andrej Sekera, Andrew MacDonald, Chris Butler, Mark Fristric, Mike Weber, Keaton Ellerby, Marc Staal, Theo Peckham, Luca Sbisa, Mark Fayne, Cody Franson, Stu Bickel, Brian Lee, Justin Braun, TJ Brennan, Derek Joslin, Alec Martinez, Jason Demers, Kris Letang, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Adam McQuaid, Ryan Wilson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Niskanen, Erik Johnson and Brendan Mikkelson
Click graph to enlarge
This isn’t terribly different from the "OZQoC" charts that I’ve used many times before. It plots each player’s offensive zone start percentage against their corsi relative to quality of competition to show what situations they are being used in. The size of the bubble shows their corsi relative with a blue bubble indicating a positive corsi relative and a white bubble shows a negative rating. The difference is that I adjusted the graph so it shows their usage relative to the sample instead of the entire league.
Why am I looking at this age group? Because I’m looking at defensemen similar to McBain. Blue liners in the league at 22 or younger are at a different calibre or are being called up before they aren’t ready. That is my opinion, at least.
According to this graph, McBain was used in similar situatinos to Marc Staal, Anton Stralman, Theo Peckman and Luca Sbisa. Not surprising to see two players who appeared in the other table show up here, too. The difference between McBain, Stralman and Sbisa is that he is a lot better in terms of driving the play forward. As for Marc Staal, I don’t think it’s fair to compare him to McBain because he is obviously a lot better. Staal was returning from a concussion this year and John Tortorella slowly worked him back into the lineup by giving him second pairing minutes. There was a good reason for him to do so because Staal was clearly not the same player that he was the last two years and there was no need for him to play tough minutes with Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi playing so well.
McBain would probably rank in the middle of the pack among 23 year old defensemen if I had to make a judgment. He is behind the Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s and Kris Letang’s of the world but he is better than guys like Ryan Wilson and Jason Demers. McBain’s point production at even strength is lower than a good few of the player’s mentioned including Stralman, Sbisa and Wilson.
What conclusion can be drawn from this? That McBain is a capable 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman and there shouldn’t be too much panic regarding his development. He isn’t going to be a shutdown guy or a top-pairing defenseman but he is fine in his role right now. It would be nice to see him turn into that kind of player, but it doesn’t look like he will at this point. However, if he stays a 2nd/3rd pairing guy then that is fine with me. This could change depending on how Murphy develops, though.