For most of the year, and with so many teams in the mix for the top pick in this year’s draft, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel dominated the conversation. But from the start of the season, the consensus for best defenseman in this year's class has been largely undisputed.
Boston College’s Noah Hanifin was ranked third by the NHL’s Central Scouting, and while some believe winger Dylan Strome (ranked fourth) may catch the eye of the Phoenix Coyotes with the high-flying young scorers in their system, an elite young blue liner would fit in just fine in the desert with the likes of youngsters Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy.
Like Eichel, Hanifin was playing most nights against men as old as 25 and at a position that typically takes longer for a player to develop; Hanifin certainly played ahead of the curve.
The 6-foot-3’, 205-pound 18-year-old put up five goals and 23 points for Boston College in 37 games, along with two assists at the World Junior tournament. Another product of the U.S. National Development Program, Hanifin was named to Hockey East’s All-Rookie Team and the Second All-Star Team for the conference. He finished 10th in scoring among defensemen in Hockey East, and second amongst freshman blue liners.
Hanifin likes to think of himself as more of an offensive defenseman, telling NHL.com earlier this year that he tries to model his game after the likes of Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty. He has drawn a few comparisons to a young Scott Niedermayer as well.
Boston College has produced a lot of NHL talent through the years, and choosing to play with the Eagles gave Hanifin the chance to play alongside current NHL prospects Steve Santini (second round, 2013 Draft to New Jersey) and Ian McCoshen (second round, 2013 Draft to Florida).
Here's Boston College coach Jerry York on Hanifin, via NHL.com:
"We're extremely pleased that not only is he a very good hockey player but he's an outstanding teammate. He's respected in the locker room because of his work habits and humble nature and he just turned 18 (on Jan. 25). 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. Clearly his skating ability is at the NHL level right now and his puck handling and skills are excellent. He just needs to be little more assertive in the defensive zone but that will come with time."