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Sorting Through Defensive Depth

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Although the Hurricanes are still hopeful that Joni Pitkanen will be healthy in time to start the regular season, his injury does raise the question of who the next name on the depth chart will be in case reinforcements are needed.

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There are a few candidates, with Brett Carson and Jay Harrison already skating with the NHL group at camp. Tim Conboy, who has played primarily on the wing at the NHL level and is doing so again in practices, could also be an option. 

In Group B, Zack Fitzgerald and Bryan Rodney have a small amount of
NHL experience, with exciting prospect Jamie McBain well on his way. Casey Borer, if healthy, could also feature, and there could be yet another player coming in if Jim Rutherford is able to execute an Anton Babchuk trade.

Long story short: although the back end doesn’t have the number of high-end prospects as their offensive counterparts, there will be no shortage of names to consider.

As one of most recent acquisitions (signed as a free agent on July 9),
Harrison is one player that those of us in Carolina don’t know very much about quite yet. The same isn’t true of Head Coach Paul Maurice, who worked with the big 6-foot-4, 211 pound defenseman with both the Toronto Marlies and the Toronto Maple Leafs between 2005 and 2008.
Asked what his impressions of Harrison both then and now, Maurice said the 26-year-old, who started last season with Zug of the Swiss league before returning to the Maple Leafs has become a much better skater.

”He went over to
Europe last year and finished the year in the NHL, and I really think the bigger ice surface (in Europe) helped him in how he moves his feet,” said Maurice. ”He’s a very dependable, stay at home guy. He’s as tough as he needs to be, and he’s certainly not shy in that department.”

Mobility is something that Maurice has found impressive from each of the team’s larger defensemen, namely Harrison, Carson (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) and Andrew Alberts (6-foot-5, 218 pounds).

”We were moving awful fast off our back end in today’s practice. That’s the first thing I noticed,” Maurice said following Sunday’s opening skate. “Alberts, Carson and Harrison all skate very well. Our back end looks like it’s bigger and moving well.”

As far as which player would get the hypothetical call to the
NHL, that remains to be seen. Each player brings a little something different to the table, whether it be size (Carson, Harrison), toughness (Fitzgerald) or a more offensive skill set (McBain, Rodney). There’s also the matter of who has the more impressive camp and who is playing well at the right time.

Although many of those circumstances will fall out of the players’ control, it’s certainly couldn’t hurt to make an impression now. It’s early, but based on their grouping with the
NHL veterans at camp, it appears that Carson and Harrison have the inside track.

In other news, Jussi Jokinen skated again today and was handling pucks, but wasn’t putting much behind his few attempts at shooting. He’s being very secretive about the nature of his injury, which he suffered during his final practice in
Finland, but seemed very sincere and confident about being at 100 percent in time to play in two exhibition games. Jokinen also revealed that he underwent minor shoulder surgery in the offseason.

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