Carolina Hurricanes: Projecting Defensive Pairings for 2013-14 NHL Season
Gone are risk-taking, largely inexperienced blueliners Jamie McBain, Bobby Sanguinetti, Joe Corvo and Marc-Andre Bergeron.
In are veteran defensive defenseman Andrej Sekera and Mike Komisarek and blossoming prospects Ryan Murphy and Brett Bellemore.
The unit as a whole, which has allowed more shots against than any other team over the past three seasons, will still enter training camp with marring question marks—an unavoidable fate, given their struggles of late.
Nonetheless, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has made enough moves to warrant some optimism as autumn approaches. The rising star of Justin Faulk, along with a healthy Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason, should form a formidable core that the team's new additions can build upon.
How will the 'Canes defensive depth chart shape up this fall? Our projections for each pairing fall below.
Pairing No. 1: Justin Faulk and Joni Pitkanen
Justin Faulk will undoubtedly be the leader of the Hurricanes' back end in 2013-14.
The 21-year-old former second-round pick proved his capability to handle the demands of a No. 1 role in 2013. With his excellent hockey smarts and vision and adept play in both zones, Faulk is a potential Norris Trophy dark horse.
Joni Pitkanen, when healthy, can be an elite offensive defenseman. However, he's played in only 52 of a possible 130 games over the past two seasons, and becomes extremely one-dimensional and unreliable, especially when playing hurt.
Expect Faulk and Pitkanen to compose a underrated first pairing come opening day, but it remains to be seen whether they'll remain together over the course of the season.
Pairing No. 2: Tim Gleason and Andrej Sekera
Tim Gleason epitomizes the conservative style idealized by Rutherford for the entire defensive unit; his playmaking shortcomings aside, Gleason has established his stellar repertoire in his own zone time and time again.
He had another strong campaign last spring, recording 64 blocked shots, a defense-leading 90 hits and an array of positive underlying stats.
Andrej Sekera begins the 2013-14 season as the biggest wild card on the Hurricanes' defense. Rutherford hinted immediately after Sekera's acquisition, however, that he will most likely pair with Gleason.
Sekera's unheralded puck-moving skills—he's accumulated 46 assists over the past three seasons combined and posted a fantastic zone start/finish differential with Buffalo in 2013—should effectively counterbalance Gleason's cautious tendencies.
Together, No. 6 and No. 4 form Carolina's true "shutdown pairing," and a very good one at that.
Pairing No. 3: Mike Komisarek and Jay Harrison
After ending his tumultuous tenure in Toronto at last, Mike Komisarek hopes that a new start in Carolina will be what it takes to rejuvenate his career back to its former all-star-caliber level.
"It’s going to be a breath of fresh air," he told reporters in July. "I just thought this would be the best fit for me...[to] get a new opportunity to play and be a part of a team that’s up and coming."
He'll be paired with a former Maple Leafs teammate in Jay Harrison, who's tallied a surprisingly high 12 goals and 33 points over the last two seasons.
The pair of shot-blocking rearguards (Harrison led the 'Canes by a mile with 110 blocks in 2013) could grow into one of the league's most competitive bottom pairings.
Defenseman No. 7: Ryan Murphy
Where will the Hurricanes' defense rank overall in 2013-14?
Former 12th-overall selection Ryan Murphy produced at nearly a point-per-game pace during his four-season OHL career, registering 277 points in 281 regular and postseason appearances.
However, at just 5'11", 176 pounds, Murphy will be tested tremendously by the physical demands of the NHL. Easing him in as a seventh defenseman and power-play specialist during the season's opening months could yield major long-term dividends.
Injury Call-Ups: Brett Bellemore, Mark Flood and Michal Jordan
The 'Canes should have a plethora of options when it comes time for AHL call-ups.
Brett Bellemore emerged from a murky minor-league cast of defensemen by earning rave reviews all around during his eight-game NHL stint in 2013. The 25-year-old could prove to simply be a late-blooming star.
Ex-Jets rearguard Mark Flood was signed this offseason to provide additional depth. He doesn't offer much upside at age 28, but the minor-league journeyman does boast 33 games of NHL and 52 games of KHL professional experience under his belt.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Michal Jordan has starred as a top blueliner with AHL Charlotte over the past three seasons. He's used to playing big minutes and will be a nice asset for the 'Canes to have in the back pocket in 2013-14.
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