In what seems like an odd move, the Hurricanes decided to bring another defenseman on board for next year by signing Marc-Andre Gragnani to a one-year, two-way deal. The contract will pay Gragnani $800,000 in the NHL and $105,000 in the AHL, which is a slight raise over the $550,000 he made last season. He spent all of last season in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks and was used almost exclusively in offensive situations.
Gragnani is very well-versed as an offensive defenseman as he led all AHL defensemen in scoring in 2010-11 with 12 goals and 60 points in 63 games. However, his game in the defensive zone is still coming along. He is a high-risk player who will make aggressive pinches when given the chance, so he can produce a lot of offense but he is also proned to give up a lot at the other end. His coaches seem to know this as he started over 63% of his even strength shifts in the offensive zone, faced mostly below average competition and saw a lot of time on the powerplay. Gragnani was very effective in those minutes so he is definitely capable as a powerplay quarterback and offensive defenseman. He hasn't quite lived up to his potential yet but he's still relatively young and can get better.
The Hurricanes acquiring Gragnani, however, is confusing to say the least. Their NHL club already has four puck-moving defensemen (Pitkanen, Faulk, McBain & Corvo) and two more who could join the team next year in Bobby Sanguinetti and Ryan Murphy. Adding another one into the mix doesn't make much sense to me because the Canes have a couple of players who would be third-pairing defensemen on most teams. It's possible that Jim Rutherford wants the team to carry seven defensemen next season for depth reasons and brought Gragnani in to compete with Sanguinetti during training camp for that final spot. They did the same thing with Derek Joslin last season because it was easier to have him available instead of exposing him to waivers. Of course, this was before we figured out that he was terrible.
Gragnani might have a better chance of making the team because he spent all of last season in the NHL but he was given a two-way deal so nothing is guarunteed. Although, Gragnani has experience playing left wing in the pros, so his versatility could be an asset that is valued by the coaching staff and Jim Rutherford. I would hope that they would still be feeling the sting of how bad Derek Joslin was at forward during the latter half of the season but it wouldn't shock me to see them do the same thing with Gragnani. No matter where the team decides to play him, he probably isn't going to go above the third defense pairing or the fourth line if he makes the NHL.
My assumption for next season is that one of Gragnani or Sanguinetti will make the team out of camp next season with Ryan Murphy spending another year in Kitchener. That's probably for the best since I doubt Murphy will be ready by next season and this signing allows the Canes to not rush him into the NHL. As for who makes the team out of Gragnani or Sanguinetti, we won't know that until another couple of months and the decision will probably be a toss-up. Gragnani is the more established player but Sanguinetti hasn't been given a chance yet so he definitely has a shot if he's good enough in training camp and the pre-season.
Either way, this is a decent signing for the Hurricanes. Gragnani might spent all of next season in the AHL and that's fine because he has proven success there as an offensive defenseman. If he makes the team out of camp, then the Hurricanes have someone who they can turn to if they need depth or want to replace someone on the third pairing. The worst thing that can happen from this is Gragnani not making the team and getting claimed off waivers for nothing but let's be honest, if a player can't crack this defense corps, then it's probably not a big loss if another team claims them. The bottom line here is that Gragnani has a decent amount of potential and the Hurricanes were able to sign him for less than a $1 mil. If he works out, then it's a great deal and if he doesn't, then there isn't much lost.