Even before he signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes on July 2, Jay McClement reached out to defenseman John-Michael Liles
He was teammates with Liles in Colorado and then Toronto and was in discussions to become his teammate again in Carolina.
“I talked to Johnny a little bit about what the team’s all about, and he had nothing but great things to say,” McClement said. “I’ve been around for a few years now, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the organization.”
McClement, 31, ultimately signed with the Canes as he prepares to enter his 10th NHL season. The veteran center has already been in contact with Canes Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis and head coach Bill Peters.
“The biggest thing that excites me, having talked to the coach and Ron Francis, is the fit for me and the chance to be a contributor,” he said. “It’s a role they needed filled, and I feel I can contribute in that role.”
That role will be one of a depth center, one who is strong in the circle and a vital asset on the penalty kill. And at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, the size he can add to the forward corps is beneficial, as well.
“I don’t see my role changing from what I’ve done throughout my career,” McClement said. “Penalty killing is a big part of what I can bring to the team, and hopefully we can have some success with that. I take a lot of pride in that part of the game.”
“I’m sure he’s fighting and in that mix with [Riley] Nash for the [third or fourth line center] spot. He’s a big guy who’s good on faceoffs,” Francis said. “He’s a smart player who can kill penalties. He’s smart defensively, and he’s been around the league so he knows what it takes to prepare and be successful. I think he’ll be real good for us not only on the ice but off the ice with our young players as well.”
In a league that puts an increasing emphasis on puck possession, faceoffs are a crucial component of each game. McClement led Toronto and ranked in the top 25 of the NHL in faceoff percentage last season at 53.6 percent, and he’s posted better than a 50 percent faceoff win rate in each of the last four seasons and in seven of his nine career NHL seasons.
“It was always something I excelled at growing up. When I made the jump to the NHL, it was a learning curve. The first few years, you just don’t have the strength to compete with the bigger, stronger, older guys,” McClement said. “I got better with that over the years, and you also learn tricks along the way and become more experienced. It can be a big part of the game, and it can make a difference in the game. If you’re winning draw, it can take a lot of pressure off your linemates and defensemen. You start with the puck more often.”
In addition to joining a friendly face in Liles, McClement will also reunite with defenseman Tim Gleason, who skated in 39 games for Toronto in the 2013-14 season, and defenseman Jay Harrison, who was a junior teammate on the Brampton Battalion of the OHL. McClement also claimed gold on Team Canada with Eric and Jordan Staal and Cam Ward at the 2007 IIHF World Championship in Russia.