What is Jay Harrison’s role?

Jay Harrison is a player who I have been following with interest all season. Going into training camp, I had him as someone who could have been lost on waivers because there were eight defensemen aiming to make the team. He ended up making the starting lineup and since then he has played on both the powerplay and penalty kill and has bounced around among the defense corps in terms of ice-time and assignments. He even found himself on the team’s “shut-down” pair with Tim Gleason for a couple games, which is a huge assessment to what the coaches think of him. What I have been wondering is where Harrison fits the Hurricanes long-term. Can he be an all-around defenseman or a reliable shutdown guy? Or is he suited for a depth role in the bottom-pair? After the jump, we’ll look at how he’s been used this season and where he can fit long-term.

My expectations for Harrison this year were pretty low because it took him until he was in his late-20’s to crack an NHL roster and that generally means that he won’t amount to anything special. Harrison still isn’t anything special but he’s been rather versatile among the defense corps this season. I mentioned all of the roles he’s played this season and he is on pace to break his personal point record (which is only 10 points in 72 games, don’t get too excited), so it would be nice to know what role he is best suited for now.

To find out what roles Harrison has played this year, let’s take a look at his most common teammates and how he has performed with them. A quick look at his Behind The Net time on ice page shows that his most common defense partner is Tomas Kaberle and the forwards he is used with the most are Chad LaRose and Eric Staal. This shows that he is normally used with the first line in offensive situations. Harrison’s offensive zone start percentage is 50.3%, which is the third highest on the team, which tells you that he is getting sheltered a lot more than the other blue-liners. This should tell you why Harrison has seen his point total influx (for his standards at least) because he’s starting more of his shifts at the opponent’s end of the ice. The increased powerplay time helps, too.

After the injury to Joni Pitkanen, Harrison was thrown into a top-four role and was even placed on a defense pairing with Tim Gleason for a couple games. He was then thrown into the wolves against the Rangers and Penguins as that pairing was assigned both team’s respective top lines. How did he fair against them? I’ll let the scoring chances do the talking. 

Pairing CF CA SC%
Harrison/Allen 7 6 0.53846
Harrison/Kaberle 53 49 0.51961
Harrison/Gleason 7 14 0.33333
Harrison/Pitkanen 4 7 0.36364
Harrison/Faulk 0 1 0
Harrison/McBain 1 2 0.33333
Harrison/Joslin 4 3 0.57143

CF = Chances for, CA = chances against, SC% = Percentage of Hurricanes scoring chances when said defense pairing was on ice.

Harrison was brutalized when he was paired with Gleason and most of that is from the Penguins game where Harrison was on ice for more than 10 chances, all of which were against the Neal-Malkin-Staal/Sullivan line. That line also started none of their draws in the defensive zone. However, Harrison has had some decent success whever he was paired with Kaberle and those two should remain a pairing for the time being. They seem to be a decent offensive pairing and Harrison provides some back-up for Kaberle’s miscue.s

The problem with this is both defensemen need to be sheltered to be effective and with Carolina’s current defense corps (especially without Pitkanen) that is hard to do. One of them needs to start taking on tougher mintues and doing it a lot better than the Gleason/Harrison pairing did. Harrison hasn’t played bad but most of his success has come from when he was playing sheltered minutes with Kaberle. His versatility is nice to have and it’s what is keeping him in the lineup but he may have to start playing against tougher competition more effectively if he wants to stick around for longer.