With all of the uncertainty revolving around who’s playing where at the forward position and the starting 6 defensemen more or less set in stone, let’s tun our attention to the battle for the final defensive roster spot. I don’t think anyone could argue (actually, I’m sure some of you probably will) that the three top contenders for the limbo that is the 7th defenseman job are: Marc-Andre Gragnani, Bobby Sanguinetti and Ryan Murphy. So, which of these lucky guys will be eating popcorn in the pressbox? This and many more answers will be provided in a couple weeks at what should be a very competitive camp. In the interim, here’s the low down on each of these talented blue liners. Actually, come to think of it, do we really need training camp when we have analytics?
Marc-Andre Gragnani – (6’2″; 205 lbs) M-A is by far the most experienced defensemen of the three players in question, having played in 73 games at the NHL level. In those 73 games, he maintained an admirable +6. He is an underrated passer, and has shown he has the ability to add some additional punch to the offense (7 pts/7 GP in the ’11 Quaterfinals versus Philly), albeit not consistently. For whatever reason, Vancouver didn’t want him back which might raise some red flags. But the Canes were in need of a big body on the blue line that could QB the PP and Gragnani certainly fits the bill. This was a smart signing by JR to help add to our depth and you never know, he could be another reclamation gem. He’ll be given a good look in camp, but I think he’ll begin the season in Charlotte.
Bobby Sanguinetti - (6’3″; 190 lbs) This is probably a make it or break it year for Sangs. Bobby has put in the time and put in the effort and it’s starting to show dividends. JR has stated that he thinks Sanguinetti is on the cusp, an endorsement I’m sure Mueller will take into account when making this decision. I also think that his offensive talents fit a bit better with how our current defense is built. If he does get on the ice, it will most likely be in relief of an injured blueliner, most of which are offensively minded. It seems like the stars may finally be aligning for him this season. Going into camp, he’s probably at the top of the list of candidates and I’m not certain I can disagree.
Ryan Murphy - (5’11′; 176 lbs) Young Mr. Murphy is as talented as they come. His offensive acumen is so inimitable that only Old Blue Eyes himself could provide the soundtrack to his highlight reel. He’s extremely fast and has a natural instinct on when to join the rush. Having said all of that, I don’t think he’s quite ready for full time duty in the big leagues. He’s not quite up to his ideal playing weight yet. If he can add about 8-10 more pounds of muscle to his frame, even if he loses a bit of his speed, he could be an elite offensive defenseman in the league for years. Even with all of his upside, his inexperience could cost us points in October that we may be in desperate need of in April (see Justin Faulk ’11). If a Pitkanen trade happens, he could move his way up this list. But I’m not quite sure the positives out weigh the negatives in regards to him being a full time starter this season. If anything, I say another trial is in order for at least few games, if not all 9 that he is eligible to play. Last year during his 4 game trial period, he didn’t even make it onto the ice. Hopefully this season we can at least get an idea of how he stacks up against grown men instead of the kids he’s been dominating for 2 years.