When you’re making player projections, defensemen are usually the most difficult to predict because their point totals tend to be somewhat random on a year-to-year basis, especially those who don’t get powerplay time. Defensemen tend take a lot of shots but a lower proportion of them actually get on goal compared to most forwards which leads to a small sample size and an unproportionate amount of goals being scored across seasons. The number of points a defenseman has is also somewhat dependent on the group of forwards playing in front of him because Tim Gleason is going to end up with more points in a season if he is playing behind Eric Staal’s line than he will playing behind Tim Brent. That’s just the way it is.
Regardless of that, we are going to continue to look at Rob Vollman’s historical projections and see what they have in store for the Hurricanes’ defensemen. The Canes didn’t have one defenseman score over 10 goals or 30 points last season and their highest scoring defenseman was Jamie McBain with only 27 points. One would think that Joni Pitkanen being in the lineup for the entire year would change this but it is what it is. Will the Hurricanes get more offense from their blue line in the upcoming season? According to Vollman’s projections, there are a few blue-liners who could potentially have a very good season offensively.
We will look at the individual cases after the jump.
Best: Vladimir Malakhov
Worst: Brian Benning
Pitkanen scored at a .566 point per game rate last season, so there is reason to believe that he can have a terrific offensive season if he is able to stay healthy. He plays top minutes, is the best puck-mover on the team and gets a ton of time on the powerplay, so if he is in the lineup more often than he was last year, then he should be able to produce at least 30 points. Unfortunately, Pitkanen has never been healthy for an entire season but the Hurricanes should be very pleased if they can get at least 60-70 games out of him next year because that would make a world of a difference for the team’s defense corps.
As for what kind of point-production to expect from Pitkanen next season, four of his comparable players reached the 40 point mark in an 82 game sample and one other came very close to doing so. Pitkanen has been able to get to that point three times in his career but was unable to do so in the last two seasons. You could suggest that this is age catching up to him but he was on pace to score 40 in each of those seasons, so it’s likely that injuries were holding him back more than anything else. Defensemen tend to decline at an older age than most forwards, so Pitkanen likely still has a few good seasons left in him and his comparable players all indicate good things are ahead for him next year.
Although, a problem with Pitkanen’s comparable players is that none of them are close matches so Pitkanen could end up having a completely different season than what is shown above. With that being said, I don’t think it’s too unlikely that Pitkanen records 35-39 points next season if he plays a full year. He is going to get top-minutes both at even strength and on the powerplay so there will be plenty of opportunities for him to do so. I would expect him to put up fewer goals, though as he scored five last season thanks to an 8.6 shooting percentage, which is very very high for a blue-liner.
Best: Jaroslav Spacek (2007)
Worst: Lubomir Sekeras (2002)
Corvo saw his point production take a sharp turn downward as he went from scoring 40 points in 82 games in 2010-11 to having only 25 in 75 games last season. Is there a chance for him to rebound, though? Maybe, but according to his similar players, that chance is very little. He was on the receiving end of some bad shooting luck last year (2.4 shooting percentage) but Corvo is also 35 years old and heading towards the end of the line of his career. Boston kept him in a limited, sheltered role because they didn’t trust him playing big minutes and the results speak for themselves.
The Hurricanes apparently have different plans for Corvo as Jim Rutherford has expressed his interest in having him play on a defense pairing with Tim Gleason, but I’m not sure how long that is going to last. Corvo works best when he’s used in an offensive role and if he is going to do that on the Canes, he may need to play on the third pairing like he did in Boston. If he does play in that role, then I wouldn’t expect him to break 30 points this season but Corvo should have one thing going for him; powerplay time.
Corvo is still an efficient powerplay quarterback and could see himself on the first unit come opening night (whenever that is) and he will have a good chance rack up most of his points there. Some of his comparables listed above aren’t exactly promising, though as players like Brisebois, Kubina, Hamrlik and Robidas all were solid offensive players who saw their point production tail off when they were in their mid-30’s. Corvo is not invulnerable to that kind of regression so I would be on the lookout for that next season. A good year for Corvo now would around the projected average listed above, so 22-26 points seems reasonable for him.
Best: Ric Nattress (1990)
Worst: Robyn Regehr (2011)
Gleason is a player who fans don’t expect a lot of offense from because that isn’t his main role. His carer high in points is 21 and he has produced less than that in each of the six seasons since that time. He mainly gets points from assists and most of the time it’s due to a forward tipping a shot from the point and when he does find the back of the net there is a good chance that it was more due to luck than him making a good shot. Offense has never been Gleason’s prime area of strength, so fans usually don’t expect him to put up a lot of points. Hell, you could probably pick a number between 11 and 20 for his point total and it would probably be not too far off.
While Gleason doesn’t produce much offensively, his point total hasn’t been that bad for a player in his type of role. Most would consider 15+ points from their shutdown defenseman a decent contribution and take it as is, so if Gleason has that many points next season then good for him. However, there have been similar players to him who saw their numbers completely fall off once they entered their 30’s. The most recent example being Robyn Regehr who amassed a total of five points in 76 games with the Buffalo Sabres last season. Colin White is another player who saw his offense go completely by the wayside after he turned 30, so Gleason might be prone to the same kind of regression since he is 29 right now.
The average of Gleason’s comparable players is very realistic for him next season and I think he will end up with a point total between 10-15 points, but I would be on the lookout for it to go even more downward in the next few years. He may get the benefit of playing behind Jordan Staal next year, so that could boost his point total a little.
Best: Randy Gregg (1984)
Worst: Poul Popiel (1971)
Jay Harrison is coming off his best offensive season with 9 goals and 23 points in 72 games with a majority of those points coming at even strength. Many are excited to see how Harrison can build off this performance but his comparables suggest that he could see his point total crash down to earth this season. Harrison is still somewhat new to the NHL (2 full seasons) but he turns 30 in November so his shelf life may not be as high as those who debuted at a younger age.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that Harrison can put up 20+ points again, though as Steve Montador has been able to do it despite not being much of an offensive threat until he turned 28. Craig Rivet is another player who managed to put up a respectable offensive total despite not doing much for the early part of his career. Poul Poiel is a different case, though as he had one down season in his late 20’s and went onto be a very effective offensive defensemen in the years after that. I’m not sure if we’re looking at a similar type of scoring pattern with Harrison.
Harrison has a chance of getting to 20 points again but I think ice time is going to be the one thing standing in the way. It’s unknown right now if he will play in the top-four and I have to think that he is lower in the pecking order when it comes to who is getting powerplay time. Harrison may have to take on an even bigger defensive workload this year out of necessity because the team has too many puck movers and he is one of the most sound blue-liners on the team. I would expect him to see his point total decrease but it won’t be by an extreme amount.
Best: Jean Potvin (1975)
Worst: Andrej Meszaors (2008)
McBain has emerged as a good offensive defenseman/powerplay quarterback ever since he debuted in the NHL three years ago and now we are all waiting for him to take that next step. Can he have that big offensive season that we are all waiting for or will he be a 27-35 point player for the rest of his career. It seems that it could go either way when you look at his comparables. McBain debuted when he was 21 and has two good offensive seasons under his belt since then, which was the case with most of the players similar to him.
Brad Stuart had a couple of 25+ point campaigns in his first few years in the league before recording 39 points in 77 games in his fifth year. He was in the league longer than McBain, but he was the same age at the time, so you can see why there is a comparison here. On the other hand, you have a player like Andrej Meszaros who had three 30+ point campaigns in his first three years in the NHL only to completely fall off the next season once he was traded to the Lightning. He was getting difficult assignments with the Bolts but he was also a mainstay on their powerplay, so I’m not sure what the reason was for such a sharp decline in points. With those two players being the top two comparables to McBain, I would be on the lookout for both outcomes to happen next season but hopeful that he ends up more like Stuart than Mezsaros.
Overall, McBain is probably somewhere in between the two and his performance and he has a good chance to put up at least 30 points next season if he stays in the lineup and remains a mainstay on the powerplay. He should be able to beat out Harrison for a spot on the second powerplay unit, so I see no reason why he can’t have a good season offensively but I don’t see him having a huge breakout year unless he plays top-four minutes and I don’t see that happening right now. McBain will probably stay in 27-35 point territory.
Best: Keith Brown (1987)
Worst: Ruslan Salei (1999)
Projecting Gragnani’s season seems a bit sketchy because the odds of him spending the entire year in Raleigh seem pretty low. The team might keep him with the Hurricanes to protect him from waivers and insert him into the lineup when needed but I don’t think he will be getting a jersey every night if that is the case. Gragnani has also played only 73 total games in the NHL, so I’m not really sure what to expect on him based on historical similarities either. Most of the players on this list played in more games than him when they were his age, so the validity of these numbers could be put into question.
That being said, if Gragnani is inserted into the lineup, he’s likely going to be playing a highly sheltered offensive role because that’s the kind of player he is; a 7th defenseman/powerplay quarterback. He had 15 points in 58 games with the Sabres and Canucks last year, so I would expect for him to have around 20 points in an 82 game season if he plays that many games. The reason why I’m setting the bar so low is because he doesn’t play a lot of minutes and won’t get as many chances as someone like McBain, Faulk or Pitkanen would.
Note: No projection is available for Justin Faulk because it only looks at players who have played at least one game in each of the last two seasons.