knew he was going to play following his recall from Albany on Tuesday, but as one of seven defensemen scheduled to be in the lineup for Carolina that night, he couldn’t be sure how much.
He ended up being pleasantly surprised, as his 19:42 of ice time during the 5-2 loss to Boston ranked third among the team’s defensemen behind only Joni Pitkanen
and Brian Pothier. In addition, he spent 4:39 on the first power play unit as the Hurricanes showed a great deal of faith in a player making his NHL debut.
”He moved the puck well,” said coach Paul Maurice. “It looks like as he gets more comfortable and gets to learn the NHL game that his hand skills and ability to do things with his head up are going to be real good.”
”It was more than I expected, and I did end up getting on the ice,” said McBain, who recently turned 22. “It was great to get the jitters out in the first and after that I felt more comfortable and I got a little bit more playing time too. It was definitely a great experience.”
For now, McBain can boast that he is a point-per-game player in the National Hockey League. He earned a power-play assist on the Hurricanes’ first goal of the game as his low, hard shot from the point through traffic caused a juicy rebound for Erik Cole.
Offensive contributions are nothing new to McBain, whose 40 points in 68 games with Albany rank second on the team. Last season, he led his entire conference in scoring as a junior at the University of Wisconsin.
“That wasn’t as surprising just because my background is as a power play guy,” said McBain of being used extensively in that situation on Tuesday. “Maybe being on that top unit was a little bit surprising to me just to be playing with that caliber of guys.”
His assist continued a points streak of sorts, as he had earned at least one point in his last six AHL games. His offensive numbers have really taken off since the beginning of February to the tune of 21 points in his last 21 games at that level.
“For the second half of the season, maybe since the Christmas break, I’ve really felt comfortable just playing, getting more confident with the puck and playing big minutes in Albany in every situation,” said McBain, who is a +11 in his first full professional season. “It’s been great for my progression.”
Although fellow defensemen Pitkanen and Tim Gleason sat out practice on Wednesday, Maurice said that he expected both to be available to face the Washington Capitals at home on Thursday. The coach also said he would likely go back to dressing the traditional six defensemen rather than the seven he used against Boston, meaning that one will be a healthy scratch.
McBain may be the junior member of the group, but his contributions on Tuesday and the fact that he’s not already on his way back to Albany suggest that he probably won’t be the one to sit out. With only 13 games left in the season and the team’s playoff hopes damaged by losses in their last two contests, the Hurricanes would like a longer look at a player they have high hopes for in the future.
“There’s certainly a skill set there that looks like he’s going to be a real good player,” said Maurice.
In addition to Gleason and Pitkanen, forward Jussi Jokinen was also absent from Wednesday’s skate. While Maurice expects Jokinen to play, he also suggested that players with bumps and bruises may be used somewhat more sparingly than normal.
“How we’re going to approach this, we’re still talking about that,” he said. “We’ve got other injury concerns with how many minutes certain guys can take.”