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Developing the Defense

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes

It wasn’t long ago that the Hurricanes didn’t have many options when it came to replacing injured defensemen on their roster.  This year, they’ll have so many options that they’ll have a difficult time choosing between them.

Noah Babin, Casey Borer and Brett Carson have all emerged from this year’s training camp as worthy candidates to be called up should one of the Hurricanes’ NHL defensemen be injured.

That’s a far cry from a mere nine months ago, when a defensive injury crisis facilitated a January trade to bring Dennis Seidenberg over from Phoenix in exchange for Kevyn Adams.  That trade has worked out just fine, but in the same situation this year, the Hurricanes will know they have their own players capable of stepping in and filling that void.

“Right now there are three young defensemen that are battling outside of our seven, and it’s nice,” said Hurricanes Head Coach Peter Laviolette.  “It’s something that got replenished through the draft and through signings, and now it’s starting to pay off a little bit.”

Borer and Carson made it further than any of the other young players in this year’s camp, as they, along with veteran forward Ryan Bayda, survived cut after cut to make up the final group of prospects left in Raleigh.

According to Laviolette, the only reason that Babin was assigned to Albany before the other two was that he had already played more exhibition games.

“We just had to start eliminating players, and Babin had gotten two games,” he said.  “Casey had only gotten one game and he had certainly played well enough to get another one. There just aren’t enough games to go around.”

While the three young defensemen play differently and are in different stages of their development, the team feels that each has enough potential to one day be on the NHL roster.

Babin, a 23-year-old Florida native who the Hurricanes signed after his senior season at Notre Dame last March, showed his trademark offensive flair by scoring a goal in the team’s first preseason game against Washington.

Not known as much for his scoring but not wanting to be outdone, Borer, a 22-year-old who played four years at St. Cloud State, contributed a goal and an assist in the Hurricanes’ 3-0 win against Nashville the next week.

The 21-year-old Carson, on the other hand, has been relatively invisible - which may be the nicest thing you can say about a young defenseman.

“He plays a game where you don’t notice him, and that’s exactly what you want,” said Laviolette.  “There’s no mistakes made, he’s moved the puck efficiently, he’s played good defense and he’s done a good job for us.”

None of the three players arrived in the Hurricanes organization with a great deal of fanfare.  Of the three, Borer was the most highly-touted prospect when the team drafted him in the third round of the 2004 draft.  Carson was taken with Carolina’s next pick in the fourth round of the same draft, and every NHL team passed on Babin until he finished his college career.

Not exactly blue-chippers, but each has developed enough to force the Hurricanes organization to take a long, hard look at them this preseason.

“It’s definitely cool,” said Borer of being one of the last prospects in camp.  “It’s a great experience.  I just keep trying to give them a hard decision.  I just play hard and whatever happens happens, but at least I know that I put my best foot forward.”

“The goal coming in was just to make an impression and hopefully get some games in this year,” said Carson.  “It’s great for me and it’s a good feeling just knowing that they put you right there to give you experience.”

Although all three have been impressive throughout camp, they will certainly benefit from seeing some time in Albany.  Carson, who played junior hockey for Calgary of the WHL, has already played one full season in Albany, while Babin and Borer only played a handful of professional hockey games with the River Rats after their college careers ended last season.

Veteran Hurricanes defenseman Glen Wesley, whose first training camp was in the late ‘80s, acknowledges that it takes defensemen longer to develop than other skaters.

“I think the biggest part of it is learning the game from a defensive standpoint and reading the defensive zone, coming through the neutral zone and knowing when to pinch and when not to pinch,” he said.  “The biggest thing you have to do as a defenseman is keep things simple back there, because if you’re the one making the mistake, you’re the only guy left back there in front of the goalie.”

That being said, he has also been impressed by what he has seen of the young trio in camp.

“I think as you see them come along you see the confidence that they gained,” he said.  “For a couple of young defensemen they’ve got great poise with the puck and they see the ice well.”

Babin is already in Albany’s training camp, and Borer and Carson will likely join him after Thursday night’s game in Columbus.  Laviolette has indicated that he will use the young players one last time in that game before going with his full NHL squad for the last preseason game at home on Friday night, also against the Blue Jackets.

The question of which defenseman will be the first called up is a difficult one.  Carson has the most pro experience, but is also the youngest.  Babin is the oldest, but may need more development than the other two, with Borer falling somewhere in between.

“I think if or when we get sent down there, it’s just going to be a matter of who’s playing the best in Albany,” said Carson.  “Every one of us could play at this level, but it’s just all about opportunity.”

When the time does come, the Hurricanes will surely have a difficult choice to make.  When everything’s said and done, however, that’s not a bad problem to have.

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