From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading the 2008-09 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2009-10. Next up, Milan Jurcina.
#23 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Jun 07, 1983
Arbitration eligible RFA; qualifying offer of $925,313 needed to retain rights. Contract of $881,250 in '08-'09.
Key Stat: Jurcina's 1.6 penalties per sixty minutes of five-on-five play were the most of any Capitals defenseman and 18th worst among all NHL defensemen who played more than thirty games in 2008-09.
Interesting Stat: In the 48 Capitals wins he played in this season, Jurcina scored three goals, had eight assists, and was a plus-fifteen. In the 32 Capitals losses he played in, Juice had no goals, three assists, and was a minus-fourteen.
The Good: In some ways Jurcina was a prototypical big-bodied defensemen this past season. He led the team's blueliners in hits, blocked more shots than anyone else, blocked shots in five-on-five situations more often than anyone else, and occasionally used his big point shot to help generate offense for the team. Despite the physical nature of his game, Jurcina played in a combined 93 regular season and playoff games, more than any of the team's other defensemen.
More than anything else, Jurcina's play in the playoffs deserves credit. While most of the team's defense corps played poorly, or, at the very least, inconsistently during the playoffs (in large part due to injury), Jurcina was steady on the back line, and finished second to Tom Poti in five-on-five goals against per sixty and five-on-five goal differential per sixty - a performance that has, in the minds of some Capitals fans, earned Jurcina a spot on the roster to start the 2009-10 season.
The Bad: Ever since he was acquired by the Capitals in 2007, one of the biggest knocks on Jurcina has been his inconsistency. The same guy who looks like a solid top-four defender with a decidedly physical edge one night can just as easily look overmatched by the speed and skill of the NHL-level game the next, and no one seems to know exactly why or exactly which version of Jurcina is going to show up on any particular night.
Even when he's playing well, Jurcina's game has some flaws. He takes far too many penalties - more than just about any defenseman in the NHL, in fact. While it might be acceptable for Juice to make frequent trips to the penalty box if he were establishing himself as a physical presence in front of his netminders, that's simply not the case. This past season Jurcina received just two roughing penalties to go along with his eight holds, seven hooks, four trips, and four interference minors, penalties that belie Jurcina's biggest physical weakness: his skating ability. Even when Jurcina's playing well, he's susceptible to being beaten by quick, skilled forwards, a problem Juice still needs to work on mitigating by playing better position and making better decisions.
The Vote: Rate Jurcina below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Who exactly is Milan Jurcina? Is a guy the Capitals can pencil in as a solid contributor for their future? Or is he a guy who's merely acting as a placeholder until the team can find a better option?