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Season In Review: The Defensemen

A look back at the 10 different skaters that played at least one game on the blue line for the Canes this season

by Walt Ruff @WaltRuff / Hurricanes.com

RALEIGH, NC. - After taking a look back at the 19 different forwards that played for the Carolina Hurricanes this season, it's now time to take a look at the group on defense.

Of course, as a unit, we'd be remiss if we didn't start by mentioning that the group played a key role in the team allowing a league-low 200 goals against this season. Part of what held that number so low was a strong defensive structure, one that allowed just 28.2 shots against per night.

The crew also amassed 673 takeaways, fourth-most in the NHL.

 

Ethan Bear

Regular Season Totals: 58 Games Played, 5 Goals, 9 Assists, 14 Points

Playoff Totals: DNP w/ Carolina

Contract Status: Pending Restricted Free Agent

Bear's first year as a member of the club got off to a flying start, impressing on the top pair while playing alongside Jaccob Slavin.

Then, after 16 games, the newcomer unfortunately became the first player to contract COVID-19 this season, sidelining him for 10 days. His game never got back to where it was when he returned. 

His absence allowed Tony DeAngelo to slide up beside Slavin, something that would stick for the remainder of the entire season, and Brendan Smith was also finally able to enter the lineup and showcase his skills as a result.

When Bear was able to get back into the lineup, some issues then relegated him to the role of the healthy extra on the blue line. He'd then miss some time due to a lower-body injury from March into April and when the playoffs rolled around, he was the odd man out once again.

 

 

Jalen Chatfield

Regular Season Totals: 16 Games Played, 0 Goals, 3 Assists, 3 Points

Playoff Totals: DNP w/ Carolina

Contract Status: Signed through the end of the 2023-24 season

Another individual who got the chance to draw in when Bear was in COVID Protocol was Jalen Chatfield.

The Canes had their seven defensemen from their opening night roster, but Chatfield emerged as the first call-up when Tony DeAngelo and Brett Pesce followed Bear onto the inactive list. Signed in the offseason as a free agent, the 26-year-old didn't look out of place at all, providing steady defense and putting his strong foot speed to use for a seven-game stint. When the regulars returned to full health #64 was sent back to Chicago, but just over a month later he was rewarded with a two-year contract extension.

Management took notice of Chatfield proving he could hang and is now viewed as someone who will compete for a spot in the lineup full-time on the right side during September's training camp.

 

 

Ian Cole

Regular Season Totals: 75 Games Played, 2 Goals, 17 Assists, 19 Points

Playoff Totals: 14 Games Played, 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 2 Points

Contract Status: Pending Unrestricted Free Agent

One of the front office's plans of attack for the 2021-22 campaign was getting players that 'had been there before', aiming to get their team over the hump of the second round of postseason play.

While unfortunately that wouldn't be the case at the end of the day, Cole provided experience and an element of grit to the club by way of the third defensive pair. He was a welcomed veteran presence, scoring a memorable game-winning goal in Game One, Round Two against New York in overtime.

Cole also led the team in blocked shots per 60 minutes, finishing with an average of 4.85 and paced the defense with his 110 hits.

 

Video: NYR@CAR, Gm1: Cole shoves the puck by Shesterkin

 

Tony DeAngelo

Regular Season Totals: 64 Games Played, 10 Goals, 41 Assists, 51 Points

Playoff Totals: 14 Games Played, 1 Goal, 9 Assists, 10 Points

Contract Status: Pending Restricted Free Agent

Speaking of offseason agendas, perhaps the biggest task for the team entering this past season was finding a replacement for Dougie Hamilton, who had been superb before electing to sign with New Jersey in free agency.

Enter DeAngelo, who came to Carolina on a one-year "show me" contract, after being cut from the Rangers early in the 2020-21 campaign. It turned out to be a winning gamble for the Canes, as the right-handed defender went on to lead all team defensemen in all three scoring categories. Beyond that, he displayed that he was capable of being an exceptional power play quarterback and was well-liked within the team's locker room.

With crisp passing abilities to boot, whether Carolina can find a way to financially make a severely increased deal for DeAngelo work may be the biggest question overall entering this offseason.

 

 

Joey Keane

Regular Season Totals: 1 Game Played, 0 Goals, 0 Assists, 0 Points

Playoff Totals: DNP w/ Carolina

Contract Status: Pending Restricted Free Agent

In his second full season as a Canes prospect, Keane's game grew to a new level with the Chicago Wolves (AHL). Producing 33 points in 62 regular season games, Keane and Chatfield became a one-two punch on the right side for the Canes' affiliate that could go toe-to-toe with any other team in the American Hockey League.

Still just 22 years old, Keane remains another up and coming piece for the organization, playing in a game with the big club for a second consecutive year in January.

While he too is a pending restricted free agent, four of the seven regulars from the Canes defensive core this year are also, which makes this a potential offseason of opportunity for the young man from Chicago.

 

 

Max Lajoie

Regular Season Totals: 5 Games Played, 0 Goals, 0 Assists, 0 Points

Playoff Totals: DNP w/ Carolina

Contract Status: Pending Restricted Free Agent

After getting an initial opportunity to play in a pair of games with the Canes during the 2021 postseason, Lajoie was called upon again when Bear, DeAngelo and Pesce were all on the COVID-19 Protocol list.

The smooth skating 24-year-old filled in for five games between November 30 and December 12, before returning to Chicago and playing an important role on the left side of their defense.

 

 

Brett Pesce

Regular Season Totals: 70 Games Played, 7 Goals, 21 Assists, 28 Points

Playoff Totals: 14 Games Played, 1 Goal, 2 Assists, 3 Points

Contract Status: Signed through the end of the 2023-24 season

Playing alongside Brady Skjei for almost all 82 games, the duo provided a stable, solid second pairing for the team once again.

Entering the season there were questions as to whether we'd see more of Pesce's offensive side, quarterbacking the second power play unit for a brief period of time. It turned out that the stint would not last long, although he would make appearances again in the role when injuries arose over the course of the season.

But just because that spot didn't come to fruition for 22 doesn't meant that it was an unsuccessful season, as there's still plenty of value being able to be a consistent piece to the puzzle night in and night out on the blue line.

 

Video: CAR@PHI: Pesce walks off Hurricanes in OT

 

Brady Skjei

Regular Season Totals: 82 Games Played, 9 Goals, 30 Assists, 39 Points

Playoff Totals: 14 Games Played, 1 Goal, 2 Assists, 3 Points

Contract Status: Signed through the end of the 2023-24 season

To this day some say that 2022 is the Year of Brady Skjei.

After a routine start to the season, the 28-year-old's uptick in offensive performance came with the turn of the calendar year, starting with two goals in the team's unthinkable comeback on New Year's Day. In fact, from January 1 to March 1, no defenseman in the NHL had more than the six goals Skjei was able to produce.

In total, #76 finished with nine goals, a new career-high en route to matching his career-high in points (39). All nine of the goals came at even strength, the most by any defender on the club.

 

Video: NSH@CAR: Skjei cuts to slot, backhands one off post

 

Jaccob Slavin

Regular Season Totals: 79 Games Played, 4 Goals, 38 Assists, 42 Points

Playoff Totals: 14 Games Played, 2 Goals, 6 Assists, 8 Points

Contract Status: Signed through the end of the 2024-25 season

It's easy to say this this year was business as usual for Slavin, but the truth is that what he accomplished this year may have been his most impressive campaign to date.

As mentioned above, he started the year playing with a new partner in Bear. Then that changed to DeAngelo, another fresh face alongside him. Despite the changes, having to establish familiarity with both of them and accounting for the offensive-minded prowess of both, Slavin finished with a career-high 42 points.

When it comes to defending, the primary objective of a defenseman, there are few, if any better in the National Hockey League than the Canes alternate captain. Leading the team in time on ice (23:32), Slavin also led the unit in blocks (121) and takeaways (74).

He also played 255:00 when the Canes were shorthanded, trailing only Andrew Peeke of Columbus league-wide in that category.

 

 

Brendan Smith

Regular Season Totals: 45 Games Played, 4 Goals, 4 Assists, 8 Points

Playoff Totals: 14 Games Played, 1 Goal, 3 Assists, 4 Points

Contract Status: Pending Unrestricted Free Agent

Like Cole, Smith was inked during the offseason as a veteran piece with playoff experience and an element of toughness to his game.

Starting the year as the seventh defenseman, that toughness played a role in Smith going from the odd man out to playing in all 14 games for the club during the postseason.

When reflecting on his year, it's hard not to first think about the scary situation that transpired after #7 sold out to block a shot in Pittsburgh during the month of February. The Danton Heinen attempt evaded Smith's helmet and hit him directly in the skull, fracturing it as a result. Smith admitted later that it took about a month for his hearing to return in both ears but after only being out of the lineup four weeks, he was back. Days later he was fighting Tom Wilson, one of the toughest customers in the game.

While above all it's most important that Smith wound up being okay from his injury, his desire to return ASAP and try to help the team seemed to go a long way within the locker room.

 

Video: NYR@CAR, Gm2: Aho feeds Smith on 2-on-1 rush for SHG 

 


 

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