ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2015 NHL Draft in Florida on June 26-27. Noah Hanifin is the No. 2-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the 10th overall selection at the draft.
Noah Hanifin is NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked defensive prospect entering the 2015 draft. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound, left-shot defenseman has the athletic ability, hockey IQ and passion required to potentially become an impactful player in the league for years to come.
Neil Shea, an amateur scout for the Colorado Avalanche, coached Hanifin at a young age in the Boston area. This is where the young defenseman began to excel and find his passion for the game, and he likes to give his former coach some credit for what he has been able to do so far in his young career.
“He (Shea) kind of just let us play. It was never too structural,” Hanifin said to Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald. “We played a lot of three-on-threes and small area games. I think that’s where I developed my hockey sense and hockey IQ and skating ability. He’d just dump the puck in the corner and say: ‘Go play hockey.’ And we’d do it for hours at practice and I think that’s where we became creative.”
It was a time in Hanifin's playing career where developing confidence on the ice was key.
“A lot of parents would say ‘You should be playing him up (an age bracket),” Shea said to Conroy of Hanifin. “But you have to let a kid like that skate up and down the ice and score five goals a game while he can and let him build his confidence. Because he’s not going to be able to do that forever. But at least he’ll know that he can do those things.”
While credit could be given to Shea for what Hanifin has been able to do in the sport since then, the Avs scout claims the young player has himself to thank for that.
“Genetically speaking, he has the size and he skates well and all that,” said Shea. “But he had the desire to be the best at a very young age, whether it was in a big game or in a practice drill. I’d like to say I taught him that, but that has to come from within the kid. And Noah definitely has that.”
Hanifin’s impressive play drew the attention of scouts and coaches early, and he soon committed to go play for Jerry York at Boston College at the age of 14.
After graduating high school a year early, Hanifin became the second-youngest player to put on a Boston College sweater last October. As a 17-year-old freshman, he recorded five goals and 18 assists in 37 games during his rookie campaign.
“He certainly was an outstanding player coming to BC, but he's got better,” York said to NHL.com in March. “Every month I think he's progressed. It's very difficult for a 17-year-old to come in and play at this level. I thought he showed those signs early, but as the year went on, he became just a better player from a defensive perspective and an offensive perspective. We're very, very proud to have him with us.”
York respects his defenseman’s play on the ice, but he also appreciates the character he brings at and away from the rink.
"We're extremely pleased that not only is he a very good hockey player but he's an outstanding teammate," York said. "He's respected in the locker room because of his work habits and humble nature.... He's got a lot of qualities going for him besides his ability to play hockey and that makes it more enjoyable to have him around every day.”
Hanifin, ranked third overall on Central Scouting's final North American skaters list, has had a lot of playing time with and against No. 2-rated North American skater Jack Eichel throughout his career. The two skated together at the United States National Team Development Program and for Team USA at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. This past season, though, Eichel played for Boston College’s cross-town rival, Boston University.
"He's an unbelievable player and person," Eichel said of Hanifin to NHL.com. "He's a good guy to be around and his game on the ice speaks for itself. I don't need to tell you how good he is. He's a strong skater and smart defenseman."
There’s a mutual respect between them, but their competitiveness shines through when Hanifin was asked if Eichel could beat him going wide in a one-on-one situation.
"Jack is a special player and will be for a long time," Hanifin said to NHL.com. "It's nice being able to play against a guy of his caliber because he makes me better.
"But he wouldn't beat me one-on-one."
Don Granato, who was Hanifin's coach while at the NTDP in 2013-14, thinks very highly of the young defenseman. In fact, he likes to compare him to the most valuable player from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I keep telling everyone that Noah can do everything that Duncan Keith can do,” Granato said to the Boston Herald. “He’s got all the skill and he’s a great competitor. And like Duncan Keith, he can't not play with energy. He’ll play 30 minutes a game and afterwards he’ll look like he hadn’t even played.”
Almost every team in the NHL would love to get a player like Hanifin on its squad. The Norwood, Massachusetts, native has always been considered one of the best players on the ice throughout his career, and it might only be a matter of time before he is considered one of the best at his position in the NHL.