Since he plays in college and hasn’t yet been able to attend a Hurricanes training camp, Jamie McBain
tends to fly under the radar when considering the team’s brightest prospects.
That should change in an awful hurry, because McBain, who is a genuine Hobey Baker candidate for collegiate player of the year as a junior defenseman at Wisconsin, should be considered one of the best.
With seven goals and 29 assists through 38 games this season, McBain ranks second in the nation in scoring among defensemen. He is also the overall leading scorer for the Badgers.
“He’s one of the go-to guys for Wisconsin on the back end and one of their go-to guys offensively, period,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting.
Beyond the offensive numbers, McBain, who the Hurricanes list at a still-growing 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, is thought to have the right all-around mixture of size and skill to be a solid NHL prospect.
“He’s one of those young men that make people around him better offensively,” said Mike Eaves, head coach at Wisconsin and father of Hurricanes forward Patrick Eaves. “Offense is truly his gift, and he has things there that you don’t teach. On the defensive side of the game, that’s something he has an awareness of and works at, and does a pretty good job at.”
While winning the Hobey Baker wouldn’t be a guarantee of future fame, past winners now playing in the NHL include Paul Kariya, Brendan Morrison, Chris Drury, Ryan Miller, Jordan Leopold and Matt Carle. Of the 28 players to win the award, which was first handed out in 1981, only five were defensemen.
McBain would be the first Wisconsin player to win the trophy, which is saying a lot about a school that has produced Chris Chelios, Dany Heatley, Brian Rafalski and Gary Suter, among others.
“In terms of what he provides for our team, how he makes his teammates better and how he leads our team offensively, I think his chances are legitimate,” said Eaves.
Regardless of whether or not he takes home the award on April 10, McBain, a second-round pick of the Hurricanes in 2006, is getting to the point where his professional career is just around the corner, perhaps as soon as next season.
“He skates very well and he shoots the puck very well, and we don’t think he’s too far away from being able to step in and certainly play at the American League level, if not the NHL level, in the very near future,” said MacDonald. “He’s a junior now, and whether or not he needs another year of competition at the college level is debatable. He might be ready to make the next step now, and he probably is.”
“He’s probably what you’d consider a man among boys at this point in college,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He’s got an extremely high skill level as evidenced by his production this year, and we don’t think he’s too far off. He’s a guy that plays in all situations, he’s got good size, skates well and handles the puck very well. He has all the tools he needs and just needs to concentrate on getting his body better conditioned for the NHL level.”
Since the Hurricanes drafted McBain out of the U.S. National Team Developmental Program, his play has been strong and constantly improving. Although he has led all Wisconsin defenseman in scoring in each of his three years on campus, his numbers have risen each year to his current near-point-per-game pace.
While many defensemen of his talent level tend to put up big numbers at the junior or collegiate level, the Hurricanes believe that McBain has all the tools necessary to do so in the pros as well.
“He’ll be no less than a solid two-way guy, if not an offensive contributor, in the NHL,” said MacDonald. “I think he’ll be able to play on the power play at the National Hockey League level.”
When that could be is still uncertain. McBain and his family will need to make a decision at the end of this season as to whether he should turn pro with the intention of either joining the Hurricanes’ American Hockey League affiliate or attempting to make the NHL roster out of next season’s training camp.
Whatever his decision might be or wherever he ends up next season, he is certainly a player that Hurricanes fans will know before too long, if they don’t already.
“We have high hopes for him,” said Karmanos. “As far as a guy with the tools and the physical package to be a player at this level, he’s right at the top of the list.”