Less than one week after Wisconsin's 2008-09 season ended with a third-place finish in the WCHA Final Five, junior defenseman Jamie McBain has signed a professional contract and will skip his senior season at Wisconsin.
"In terms of Jamie signing, we knew from the beginning of the season that it might be a possibility and the possibility got stronger based on his performance this year," head coach Mike Eaves said. "He dropped in two days ago, said he and (Carolina) chatted and that he wanted to go home and sleep on it.
"If you're looking at that moment for young athletes to take that next step in today's age, he's got three years of education under his belt, he got the max he could get as an entry-level athlete and Carolina was really honest with him. They didn't sell him the moon."
McBain, a second-round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, will play 10 games with the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League (AHL), the top minor league affiliate of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, will return to Madison to finish the semester and start next season in the AHL.
McBain got the maximum he could for an entry-level player, signing a three-year contract that will pay McBain an average of $600,000 per year at the NHL level and $62,500 in the minors. McBain also received a $255,000 signing bonus.
McBain becomes the sixth Badger in the last three years to leave early for the pros, joining freshman Kyle Turris (08), sophomore Jack Skille (07) and juniors Joe Piskula (07), Robbie Earl (06) and Joe Pavelski (06) to make the jump.
Unfortunately for Eaves, there is a chance that more of his players may follow in the coming months, as junior John Mitchell (free agent) and Ryan McDonagh (Montreal) could follow suit when multiple NHL teams open their summer camps in June.
"I wish I could tell you 100 percent," Eaves said when asked if everyone else was staying put. "We'll just have to wait and see."
The WCHA Player of the Year and a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, McBain led the Badgers with seven goals, 30 assists and 37 points, becoming the fourth defenseman to lead the team in scoring since the program joined the WCHA in 1969-70.
"Right now, he is full of confidence," Eaves said. "He's ready for that next step and his confidence level is high; two good things you need to make that step. He's not a 210-pound bruiser, but he knows how to position his body, use his stick well to make him very effective on the defensive side … He has a really deep competitive edge inside of him. Jamie's confidence in his game led him to be able feel he could step up and do that."
McBain had the highest single-season output for a UW defenseman since Craig Johnson had 42 points in 1997-98.
McBain currently ranks second in the nation among defensemen in assists and points, was the first UW defenseman and seventh Badger named WCHA Player of the Year and the eighth Badger named a top-10 Hobey Baker finalist and the first defenseman.
"He had such an outstanding year," Eaves said. "He was the most outstanding player in the WCHA this year. Not a bad time to leave. When the time is right and you had that success, because of those things, things fell into place for him."
The Faribault, Minn., native finished his Badger playing career with 111 games played, 15 goals, 64 assists and 79 points in three years. When Eaves met with McBain earlier in the week, however, the pair talked about his slow start and his slow finish (not scoring a point in a six-game stretch at the end of February), little things that added up to Wisconsin missing the post-season by two ten-thousandth of a point.
"He felt that he even could have done more (and) it's nice to hear him say that," Eaves said. "That tells me he's striving for more. There's some satisfaction from a numerical standpoint. Like all of us, he doesn't understand the .0002 of a point issue like most of us of how it could be so close and not get in. It's still about the championship that made this play special."
Left to fill the void is a talented group of high-NHL draft picks: freshman Jake Gardiner (picked 17th overall by Anaheim), sophomore Cody Goloubef (37th overall by Columbus and a gold medalist at the World Juniors for Team Canada), sophomore Brendan Smith (27th overall by Detroit), McDonagh (12th overall by Montreal) and incoming freshman Jordan Schultz (picked 43rd overall by the Anaheim).
"I think we'll be able to distribute Jamie's responsibilities with the guys we've got coming back," Eaves said. "We've got guys that have talent with the puck and they'll be given more responsibilities. Which one is going to step up and be the quarterback of our power play?"
Eaves has six months to figure that out, assuming that they all return.