Jamie McBain earns top spot among Carolina Hurricanes prospects

By Cory Lavalette
Photo: The Carolina Hurricanes top prospect Jamie McBain. (Photo Courtesy of Holly Gunning/Hockey’s Future)

The Hurricanes’ prospect coffers haven’t been this full in years. Not only has the team drafted well in recent seasons, but GM Jim Rutherford added several talented young players via trade and the draft over the past half year. The result is a top 20 list that looks vastly different from the last installment.

But right now it looks like no one has a brighter future than defenseman Jamie McBain. The 2006 second-round pick was a bright light in an otherwise dismal 2009-10 season, and he is a dark horse candidate for the Calder Trophy.

Top 20 At a Glance:
1. Jamie McBain, D, 8B
2. Jeff Skinner, C, 7.5B
3. Zach Boychuk, C, 7.5B
4. Zac Dalpe, C, 7.5C
5. Brian Dumoulin, D, 7.5C
6. Drayson Bowman, LW, 7.5C
7. Riley Nash, C, 7B
8. Bobby Sanguinetti, D, 7B
9. Justin Faulk, D, 7C
10. Justin Peters, G, 7C
11. Mark Alt, D, 7C
12. Oskar Osala, LW, 6.5B
13. Mike Murphy, G, 7D
14. Jared Staal, RW, 6.5C
15. Chris Terry, LW, 6.5C
16. Michal Jordan, D, 6.5C
17. Danny Biega, D, 6.5C
18. Mattias Lindstrom, LW, 6.5C
19. Nick Dodge, C, 6B
20. Jerome Samson, RW, 6C

1. (2) Jamie McBain, D, 22, 8B
Acquired 2nd round, 63rd overall, 2006

It wasn’t just the 14 games Jamie McBain played in Carolina last season that open eyes around the NHL. It was the way he went from a steady, if unspectacular, defenseman with the AHL’s Albany River Rats at the start of 2009-10 — his first full professional season — to transitioning to a dominant offensive force. His 10 points with the Hurricanes followed 40 in 68 games with the Rats, including seven goals. Furthermore, McBain had just 10 penalty minutes in Albany and none with Carolina — a rarity among any young player, specifically defensemen.

McBain’s biggest mark will be made in the offensive end. His low, hard shot makes him a weapon on the power play, and his poise with the puck gives coaches and teammates the confidence that he can handle big minutes in key situations. There are still occasional defensive lapses and he lacks the physicality you would like out of a 6’2, 200-pound player, but at the end of the day the sky seems to be the limit for McBain.

2. (NR) Jeff Skinner, C, 18, 7.5B
Acquired 1st round, 7th overall, 2010

Most observers were a little surprised when the Hurricanes chose Skinner at seventh overall in June’s entry draft. There was no denying his potential — most scouting reports had him as one of the draft’s top two pure scorers, along with top pick Taylor Hall (EDM) — but, for whatever reason, he was off the radar as a possibility for Carolina.

All that being said, many opinions have changed since late June. Skinner impressed at the Canes’ prospect conditioning camp and followed that up with an eye-opening performance at Team Canada’s junior team summer camp. Without many proven scorers in Raleigh, Carolina could look to Skinner this fall as a viable option on the top two lines, likely on the wing with centers Eric Staal or Brandon Sutter. With 70 goals in 84 regular and postseason games last season, he could be exactly what Carolina needs.

3. (1) Zach Boychuk, C, 20, 7.5B
Acquired 1st round, 14th overall, 2008

Boychuk played 33 games with Carolina last year, showing flashes of the shifty, explosive skating that made him a first-round pick in 2008. But the Canes limited him to an average of just 10:45 minutes a night and Boychuk never seemed to gain a consistent foothold in the offensive zone. He had three goals and six assists with the Hurricanes last year and had 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 52 games with Albany.

Boychuk did have his moments however. Despite his 5’10 frame, Boychuk shows little to no fear in entering high-traffic areas or using his body. He also has the ability to use his small size and swift skating to squeeze past defenders and find separation in the offensive zone. With Carolina dedicated to a youth movement in 2010-11, Boychuk will be given every chance to earn top-six minutes and show off his potential.

4. (4) Zac Dalpe, C, 20, 7.5C
Acquired 2nd round, 45th overall, 2008

Dalpe’s sophomore campaign at Ohio State confirmed that the young center was a second-round steal for the Hurricanes. After scoring 13 goals as a freshman, Dalpe was the Buckeyes best player in 2009-10, leading the team in goals (21) and points (45), both by wide margins. But it was a disappointing season for OSU — after earning an NCAA Tournament bid in 2008-09, the Buckeyes were 15-18-6 last season. John Markell, the team’s coach for the past 15 years, was fired, and Dalpe decided to turn pro.

Dalpe’s brief tenure with the River Rats was equally impressive as his play at Ohio State. In nine regular season games he scored six times (and added an assist), then had six points (three goals, three assists) in eight postseason outings. His smooth transition to the pro game has him poised to battle for the third center spot in Carolina this season.

5. (6) Brian Dumoulin, D, 18, 7.5C
Acquired 2nd r
ound, 51st overall in 2009

Despite being the youngest player selected in the 2009 draft, Dumoulin didn’t look at all out of place in his first collegiate season at Boston College. In fact, his play was a big part of the Eagles’ run to a national championship. The young, lanky defenseman had 22 points — good for second among the team’s defense — in 42 games for BC and led the team in plus/minus with a plus-40. The 6’3 blueliner also had just 16 penalty minutes despite logging major time on the Eagles back end.

Dumoulin’s size, skating and wingspan make him a smothering defender, and his offensive instincts, while unpolished, show glimpses of a bright future. If he continues to benefit from the conditioning the NCAA’s light schedule allows and grow into his frame, he could transition to the pro game sooner than originally expected.

6. (3) Drayson Bowman, LW, 21, 7.5C

Acquired 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2007

With Skinner joining the system, Bowman is no longer the top sniper coming through the Carolina ranks. Blessed with a deadly shot, Bowman came into his first pro season last year with high expectations heaped on him. But injuries and the adjustment to the rigors of pro hockey led to just 17 goals in 56 games with Albany — an underwhelming output for a player who scored 89 combined his final two junior seasons.

Still, Bowman’s natural talent is obvious. He had a nine-game audition with the Hurricanes last season that resulted in just two points — but both were goals scored in an April 6 win over Tampa Bay. Like Boychuk, his minutes were limited in Raleigh, but he will be given a chance to earn a spot on the wing at training camp.

7. (NR) Riley Nash, C, 21, 7B

Acquired via trade on June 26, 2010

Armed with three second-round draft picks, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford used his wealth of selections to swing a deal with Edmonton and land Nash, a 2007 first-round pick of the Oilers. Edmonton’s inability to sign Nash to an entry-level deal opened the door to Carolina acquiring the Cornell center who had three straight 30-plus point seasons in the ECAC.

The Canes were able to sign Nash to a three-year deal, and the 6’1, 191-pound pivot will battle Dalpe and others for a chance to center the Hurricanes’ third line to open 2010-11. Nash may not have the scoring pedigree of Dalpe, Boychuk or Skinner, but he’s solid in his own end and may be the most polished three-zone center in the system.

8. (NR) Bobby Sanguinetti, D, 22, 7B
Acquired via trade on June 26, 2010

Rutherford’s other draft day trade was the acquisition of the offensive-minded Sanguinetti from the Rangers for another surplus pick, a second-rounder in 2011 acquired from Washington in the deadline trade that sent Joe Corvo to the Capitals. After passing on highly rated defenders Cam Fowler (ANH) and Brandon Gormley (PHO) at the draft table, Rutherford again put into action his long-standing method of acquiring talented blueliners with a couple years of pro experience instead of drafting them with first-round picks.

In Sanguinetti, Carolina gets a player with two years of pro experience who can step into the Canes lineup as early as next season and immediately bolster the power play. Like fellow Carolina defenders Anton Babchuk and Jamie McBain, Sanguinetti brings ideal size (6’3, 190 pounds) but not a lot of grit to the Canes blueline. Even if Sanguinetti doesn’t vastly improve in his own end, he has value as a power play specialist who can quarterback the team with the man advantage.

9. (NR) Justin Faulk, D, 18, 7C
Acquired 2nd round, 37th overall, 2010

Faulk is the first of three NCAA defensemen selected on the second day of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Set to begin his college career at Minnesota-Duluth in the fall, Faulk was considered one of the better offensive defenders available in the draft, thanks in part to his high-powered shot. A shot that helped him score 21 goals with the U.S. NTDP squad last year. He was also standout at Team USA’s evaluation camp earlier this month.

Faulk is an average 6 feet tall, but he’s already 205 pounds — you can always count on the U.S. NTDP guys being a step ahead of the rest of their draft class in conditioning — and his poise with the puck as both a shooter and passer makes him an intriguing prospect down the road.

10. (15) Justin Peters, G, 23, 7C
Acquired 2nd round, 38th overall, 2004

Finally given his chance, Peters showed why Carolina made him a second-round pick six seasons ago. With Cam Ward on the shelf, Peters split time with veteran Manny Legace and posted a 6-3 record with a respectable 2.83 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. For his efforts, Peters was awarded the Hurricanes backup job heading into 2010-11.

The fifth-year pro had never won more than 19 games as a pro until he went 26-18-2 with the River Rats last year. With Carolina late in the season, he showed an ability to keep the team in games despite playing behind a depleted lineup.

11. (NR) Mark Alt, D, 18, 7C

Acquired 2nd round, 53rd overall

The consensus opinion on Alt seems to be this: if he had decided sooner that he was definitely playing hockey over football, he would’ve gone higher than 53rd overall. Alt, the son of long-time NFLer John Alt, was recruited as a quarterback by multiple BCS division schools. But his future seemed brighter in hockey, so the 6’3, 200-pound defenseman decided to sign with Minnesota to play hockey.

Alt was cut from the 28-man U.S Junior National roster that Faulk made, but he should play a significant role on a Golder Gophers defense that features fellow 2010 second-round pick Justin Holl (CHI). A finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award, Alt is big, fast and shows offensive upside.

12. (NR) Oskar Osala, LW, 22, 6.5B

Acquired via trade on March 3, 2010

In Osala, the Hurricanes acquired from Washington both something they needed (size) and liked (another Finn). The 6’4, 219-pound winger is the biggest forward in the Carolina system — in Raleigh, the minors or otherwise. The question is can Osala translate that size into production. If his time with the River Rats is any indication, he may very well be the big, point-producing body the Canes have sorely lacked in recent years.

After scoring 29 points in 53 games with Hershey in a supporting role, Osala joined Albany after the trade — the same Corvo deal that landed Carolina the 2011 second-round pick they used to acquire Sanguinetti — and received an increased workload. The early results were good: 10 goals and three assists in 16 games. But Osala’s production dipped in the playoffs (three points in eight games), and his one-game showcase in Raleigh — his third-ever professional
game — wasn’t enough to get a fair assessment on how he measures up at the NHL level. Osala will compete for a job in Carolina this fall, but chances are he will start the season in the AHL playing a major role for the new Charlotte Checkers.

13. (7) Mike Murphy, G, 21, 7D

Acquired 6th round, 165th overall, 2008

By no fault of his own, Murphy tumbles into the teens in this installment of the top 20 prospects. The Gumby-esque goalie had a productive first professional season after dominating the OHL the two prior years. In 20 games with the River Rats, Murphy went 10-9 with a 2.81 goals-against average. More impressive was Murphy’s .917 save percentage.

With Peters slated to back up Ward in Carolina, Murphy should have the inside track on replacing him as the No. 1 goaltender in Charlotte over well-traveled Justin Pogge, who was acquired from Anaheim at the trade deadline in a package that sent Aaron Ward to the Ducks. Murphy’s Dominik Hasek-like style is exciting, but he will need to improve on his positional game if he wants to succeed with the Checkers and beyond.

14. (NR) Jared Staal, RW, 19, 6.5C

Acquired via trade on May 13, 2010

Just shy of two years after they passed on the youngest Staal brother in favor of Dalpe, the Hurricanes acquired Jared — the 49th pick in the 2008 draft — from Phoenix for a fifth-rounder. Staal has never produced like brothers Eric and Jordan, but the 6’4, 210-pound wing has the size the Canes need to complement their smaller, skilled forwards. Throw in the fact that the Staal bloodlines have not come up snake eyes yet and Jared seemed worth the minimal risk.

Staal was never a point-per-game player with Sudbury in the OHL, so chances are Carolina is hoping he can be serviceable defensive forward, plus improve in the offensive zone enough to grow into a supporting role. Staal signed his entry-level deal this summer and will play with Charlotte this season.

15. (8) Chris Terry, LW, 21, 6.5C

Acquired 5th round, 132nd overall, 2007

Like Murphy, Terry is a victim of the influx of talent that has entered the Carolina system the past five months. The 21-year-old had a very solid first professional season, registering 47 points — including 17 goals — in 80 games with the River Rats and adding six points in eight postseason games. But players like Nash and Sanguinetti — both former first-round picks — and the wealth of early picks Rutherford had at his disposal leads to Terry’s drop in the rankings.

That doesn’t mean Terry is suddenly on the outside looking in. The former Plymouth Whaler acquitted himself better to the pro game than anyone expected and another year in the minors should help to build his confidence and refine his game so he can eventually make a run at the NHL roster.

16. (9) Michal Jordan, D, 20, 6.5C
Acquired 4th round, 105th overall, 2008

Jordan, a teammate of Terry’s for two seasons in Plymouth, will begin his first pro season this fall and should get a chance to immediately contribute in Charlotte. Jordan took a small step back statistically last season, registering 32 points in 41 games after scoring 42 in 58 games the year before, but he captained the Czech Republic team at the World Junior tournament and was the Whalers’ top defenseman — when healthy — in 2009-10.

With experienced Sanguinetti and Casey Borer likely anchoring the Charlotte blueline, Jordan should be able to play a supporting role while he adjusts to the pro game.

17. (NR) Danny Biega, D, 18, 6.5C
Acquired 3rd round, 67th overall, 2010

The third of three straight college-bound defensemen chosen by the Hurricanes at the draft, Biega is the only one with a year of NCAA hockey already under his belt. The rising sophomore at Harvard is similar to Faulk in his poise while handling the puck, but also doesn’t shy away from playing a physical game despite being average sized (6’, 200 pounds).

Biega plays with brothers Alex (a defenseman chosen in the fifth round by Buffalo in 2006) and Michael (an undrafted forward) at Harvard, and had five goals and four assists in 32 games last season.

18. (10) Mattias Lindstrom, LW, 19, 6.5C
Acquired 3rd round, 88th overall, 2009

Lindstrom was being compared to countryman Tomas Holmstrom when he was selected by Carolina last summer. Big and capable of being a force in the offensive zone, Lindstrom had Hurricanes observers envisioning him on the top two lines and in front of the goalie on the power play in the not-so-distant future.

But an early season knee injury derailed Lindstrom’s 2009-10, costing him a spot on Sweden’s World Juniors entry and limiting him to all but seven games with Skelleftea HC of the Swedish Elite League. Mobility was the main question surrounding Lindstrom last summer, so he will need to show that he’s no worse for wear despite suffering serious knee issues.

19. (11) Nick Dodge, C, 24, 6B
Acquired 6th round, 183rd overall, 2006

Dodge is never going to wow anyone on the ice, but his hard-working, smart play has the caught the attention of anyone who closely follows the Hurricanes. Going into his third professional season, Dodge has been the model of consistency, posting 39 and 36 points over the past two respective seasons and appearing in every regular season game.

Jeff Daniels, who coached Albany the past two seasons and will resume handling the Hurricanes AHL affiliate in Charlotte this year, praised Dodge last year for his nose-to-the ground work ethic and dependable play. His defensive acumen and faceoff skills could make him a dark horse candidate for the fourth-line center role in Carolin as soon as this season.

20. (16) Jerome Samson, RW, 22, 6C
Signed as an undrafted free agent on July 2, 2007

Simply put, Samson was a monster for the River Rats last season. The third-year pro was one of the AHL’s most dominant players in 2009-10, scoring 37 goals and adding 41 assists in leading Albany to the postseason. Despite measuring an average 6 feet, 195 pounds, the undrafted right wing was an unstoppable force in the offensive zone for the Rats, controlling the puck night in and night out.

He showed flashes of that ability in his seven games with Carolina, but was unable to replicate his point production in a limited role with the Canes, registering just two assists. Samson could be a perfect fourth-liner for Carolina this season — a player who is capable of cycling the puck in the offensive
zone and contribute some secondary scoring in a limited role. To do that, he’ll need to minimize his mistakes — especially penalties — and prove he can still produce without having big minutes.