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Defense Taking Shape

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
With Monday’s re-signing of Jamie McBain, the Carolina Hurricanes’ defensive corps for the upcoming season continues to take shape.

Michael Smith
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And while the team might not be done making moves on the back-end, President and General Manager Jim Rutherford said he’s not itching to pull the trigger, either.

“We’re in a position now where we’re not going to be pressured into doing something else,” he said. “We like the structure of our defense, especially now with McBain being healthy this off-season going into his third full year. I believe he’ll take another step forward in his development.”

In his second full professional season with the Hurricanes, McBain was a healthy scratch six times in the team’s first 27 games. Plagued by a slow start, Rutherford noted McBain’s resurgence following the early adversity. The 24-year-old, Edina, Minnesota native ended the season leading defenseman in scoring with 27 points (8g, 19a). His 8-goal total was a career high.

“Hopefully being healthy through the offseason gives him the opportunity to get his game going from the start,” Rutherford said. “Once he got settled in and started playing more regularly, his consistency was better. He didn’t turn the puck over as much, he was moving the puck well into the play and he was more consistent.”

With McBain secured for an additional two years, the Canes now have six returning defensemen under contract for 2012-13: Justin Faulk, Tim Gleason, Jay Harrison, Derek Joslin, McBain and Joni Pitkanen.

Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek are unrestricted free agents, and their returns look uncertain – if not hedging toward unlikely – at this point.

“We’ve still got Allen and Spacek sitting there saying they want to come back, but I think in Allen’s case, he wanted to see how he could do in free agency, and of course there will be other free agents available,” Rutherford said. “With that being said, there’s no pressure on us to do something that maybe we’re not totally comfortable with.”

Don’t count Bobby Sanguinetti out of the defensive picture, either. Sanguinetti, who saw three games with the Hurricanes in March in which he averaged nearly 12 minutes of ice time per game, re-upped for one year on Monday as well.

“The second-half of last season, he really showed why he was a first-round pick and why he’s a guy that’s now knocking on the door to playing in the NHL,” Rutherford said. “He will definitely have a chance to be with our team next year. Now that he’s healthy, his development has really come along.”

With a contract down, his health in check and a full summer ahead, Sanguinetti figures to be competitive for a full-time job in Raleigh come training camp.

“In the last half of this year, he finally got to that point where he was healthy and showed people what he can do. He gained a lot of confidence from that,” said Ron Francis, director of hockey operations. “We think he has an opportunity now based on where he is health-wise, confidence-wise and ability-wise that he can push for a job in our lineup. That’s what we’re hoping to see.

“I think the biggest thing for him is to work his butt off this summer and give himself the best opportunity in training camp. Come in right from day one and show that you’re capable of taking a spot,” Francis said. “I would hope coming off the season he had last year and the confidence he has, his thought is to try to make this team out of the gate.”

In 60 games with the Charlotte Checkers this season, he totaled career-high numbers in points (50), goals (10) and assists (40). He ranked third among AHL defensemen in assists and points. Had a hip injury in 2010-11 and a foot injury this past season not hindered his development, he might have seen time with the big club earlier.

“I think this is where he wants to play in the NHL. I think that will be enough motivation for him to come in and do what he has to do to try and earn the job.”

And then there are Ryan Murphy and Brian Dumoulin also under contract, both who figure into the competition as well.

So how many defensive slots will be up for grabs? According to Rutherford, two spots will be free, whether it’s the sixth and seventh slots or the seventh and eighth slots. Carrying eight defenseman, Rutherford said, isn’t out of the question.

“We might because of these guys that don’t have a lot of experience in the League yet,” he said.

Blanchard Rounds Out Monday Signings

The Canes completed a busy Monday by bringing group six unrestricted free agent forward Nicolas Blanchard back for two additional seasons. Though Blanchard has yet to be recalled since being drafted in 2005 by the Hurricanes, Francis said that opportunity wasn’t too far off this year. A late-season injury, however, skewered those plans.

“This is a guy who is a heart-and-soul guy in the organization,” Francis said. “He’s the kind of guy who’s willing to do what it takes for the team to be successful whether it’s making a big hit, killing a penalty or stepping in to help a teammate. He’s a really good person in addition to being a good teammate.”

Francis added the fact that Blanchard – who could have tested the market on July 1 – re-signed with the Canes “says volumes about the kind of person he is.” The 24-year-old Quebec native will likely be rewarded with a look in the pre-season.

“Kirk and his staff want guys to battle and compete, and this would be a good opportunity for Nic to come into training camp and show these guys what he’s capable of doing,” Francis said. “I would fully expect he’d get some exhibition games to show that.”

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