A little over a week ago, Derek Joslin
wasn’t playing. Now, he’s getting about all the minutes he can handle.
The Hurricanes’ defenseman, who turned 24 on St. Patrick’s Day, has set new career highs in minutes played in each of his last two contests. He had never hit the 20-minute mark in the NHL before playing 20:36 against the Toronto Maple Leafs last Wednesday. He followed that up with 22:39 in the team’s overtime win against the New York Islanders two days later.
Not bad for a player who had been a healthy scratch for the first five games of March.
“I always knew I could do it at this level,” said Joslin. “I just needed someone to give me that opportunity.”
The majority of his minutes have been good ones. Joslin, acquired from the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 18, has yet to post a negative plus/minus rating in any game as a Hurricane, with an overall rating of plus-6 in just seven games of work. He’s shown a willingness to mix it up with the opposition and play physical in front his net, and has even chipped in 3 assists since joining the team.
“He blocks shots, he’s a big body at five-on-five and he gets the puck through pretty good on the power play,” said coach Paul Maurice. “We’re pretty happy with him, and he’ll only get better.”
Joslin’s increased minutes came with his increased role on special teams. He would occasionally kill penalties with the Sharks, but had never before played on an NHL power play until the Hurricanes began using him there last week. While his primary goal will still be preventing goals, he may be becoming more of a two-way threat than previously given credit for.
“He’s showing signs as a young defenseman that he can move and move with the puck,” said Maurice. “If he has a little offensive upside that would be good too, but we really like what we’ve seen so far.”
Joslin’s strong play ever since he arrived on a red-eye flight from San Jose to make his debut on two hours sleep made his removal from the everyday lineup somewhat difficult. When the Hurricanes acquired Bryan Allen, his current defensive partner, in a trade with Florida, Joslin became the seventh defenseman on a team that dresses six. He wouldn’t get back in until Jamie McBain, the only defenseman on the team younger than Joslin, suffered a shoulder injury in Washington on March 11.
“It is frustrating, but as a young guy you go through the ropes,” said Joslin of watching games rather than playing them. “I knew it was a numbers game and that Bryan Allen is a veteran who helps this team tremendously.”
“We just kept saying the same thing to him,” said Maurice. “‘We like you and we like your play on such a short sample of games.’ He worked hard, never complained, put himself in a position to play well and would make it a very difficult decision if we had to take somebody else out to put McBain back in.”
That decision may occur much sooner than expected. Originally given a 3-4 week timeline that would have had him questionable to return by the end of the regular season, McBain practiced with the team on Sunday and, although he hasn’t been cleared for contact and didn’t attempt any hard shots, looks to be healing more quickly than anticipated.
“It’s one or two weeks ahead of what we had projected,” said McBain. “It’s just good to get out there, and there was progress even in practice with learning how much pressure I was able to put on the puck.”
“He’s probably on the early part of his curve,” said Maurice. “He’s probably closer to two (weeks) than three, but before he goes back in the lineup he’s still got a lot of work to do.”
If McBain is cleared to play and the Hurricanes decide to use him, there won’t be any clear choice as to which defenseman might exit the lineup to make room. It could very well end up being Joslin once again, although the Canes could elect to dress all seven of their quality blue liners.
Whatever happens, Joslin, as he has been throughout his NHL career, will be prepared for it.
“I’ve gone through it all year,” he said. “When your number is called, you’ve got to be able to perform. I have to play every game like it’s my last.”