It’s just the nature of the position – most defenseman, no matter how high-profile they are as prospects, take longer to develop than forwards.
Although he became arguably the Hurricanes’ best defensive prospect after an outstanding three-year college career at Wisconsin, that could be the case for 21-year-old Jamie McBain
. The organization has high hopes for their second-round choice in 2006, but his transition from college star to NHL regular probably won’t happen overnight.
His offensive skills may already be up to par, as his 37 points in 40 total games last season led all Wisconsin skaters. Additionally, his 28 points in conference play led all players, making just the second time in WCHA history that a defenseman has accomplished that feat.
“My offense has kind of always been my forte,” said McBain, who is about to begin his first full professional season following his decision to forego his final season of college eligibility last March. “I’ve always been a good puck handler.”
His efforts in 2008-09 led to his selection as the WCHA Player of the Year and as one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the NCCA’s top player.
”On an individual basis it was a year you could only dream of,” he said. “It was unbelievable from my point production and just from the way I felt out there. There were some games where I thought I should have had even more points and been even more into the Hobey Baker race.
Barring a spectacular preseason, McBain will likely be asked to spend the majority of next season developing the defensive side of his game in Albany alongside the Hurricanes’ other top prospects. While he’s no slouch in in his own end after making significant advancements over the last few years, that’s always the hardest part for a young player to learn.
”Through the years at Wisconsin under (Assistant) Coach (Mark) Osiecki, he did just a fantastic job of making sure I showed improvements each year on the defensive side,” said McBain. “With the little things like stick positioning and body positioning, he did just a great job with me. There’s still room for improvement, but from where I was, there’s definitely been huge strides.”
If McBain is asked to undergo some minor-league seasoning before making the big jump, he won’t need to look far for evidence that such moves often work out. Despite being drafted fifth overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1991, it wasn’t until the 1996-97 season that Aaron Ward played his first full year for the Detroit Red Wings. Around 760 games played and three Stanley Cups later, he’s doing just fine.
”A lot of times this position is a maturity game,” said Ward. “Some of it is knowledge of the speed of the game and a lot of it is knowledge of the players you’re playing against. That all comes from experience.”
”For me, it was a maturing process,” recalled Ward of his own rise through the ranks. “My biggest problem when I was younger was that I ran after hits. I got in my mind that I got drafted because I was a physical player, but if you make seven or eight spectacular hits and you come out of the game minus-three, you’re not going to be out there much longer.”
While it’s strange to think about since it’s been three years since the Hurricanes drafted McBain, he would actually be ahead of the four-to-five year curve demonstrated by current Canes defensemen Ward, Andrew Alberts, Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason if he were to hold a regular spot on an NHL blue line this season.In that sense, look for McBain to have a real chance to crack the roster on a full-time basis in the coming seasons. The Canes seem to have little doubt that he will.