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WILY 'OL VET

Just 22, Hanifin enters his fifth NHL season full of confidence and looking to make an even greater impact for the Flames

by TY PILSON @typilson / CalgaryFlames.com

They say wisdom comes with age.

It also comes with experience.

While still just 22 years old, Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin is already a wily ol' vet of sorts, about to lace 'em up for his fifth full NHL season.

When many players his age are still dreaming of cracking an NHL roster, getting ready to ply their trade in the minors to show they have what it takes to make The Show, Hanifin already has 319 games under his belt on hockey's biggest stage.

"Yeah, I know, it's gone by pretty quick," said Hanifin, who'll skate in Game No. 320 tonight when the Flames open up the 2019-20 campaign in Denver against the Avalanche. "But every year it's something new, you learn something new and get better at it. 

"Looking forward to getting the fifth one underway."

So while still very young, he has the experience that's earned him plenty of hockey wisdom. And, he's also gained the handy byproduct that often comes with it: confidence.

Selected fifth overall back in 2015 in a star-studded draft that saw Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner go 1-4 before him, Hanifin quickly established himself as an everyday NHLer.

In his first season with the Hurricanes, he played 79 games, followed up by 81- and 79-game years in Raleigh, before following his coach Bill Peters to Calgary in part of a blockbuster trade that also brought Elias Lindholm to the Stampede City.

Since landing here, he's continued to develop and show his versatility.

"He's trending in the right direction, for sure," said Peters. "He's getting better defensively, better making reads through the neutral zone and moving the puck quicker. He skated it a lot more as a young guy and now he's moving it and supporting the rush." 

When it comes to Hanifin's ongoing progression, his coach's expectations of him heading into this season are simple.

"Well, nothing outrageous," said Peters. "I think he's just going to have to settle down a little bit in the D zone, be a little more patient, and take all the experience he's gathered in the last five years now and put that to work."

 

 

The learning curve for a rearguard - no matter how talented or highly touted - is a steep one when they arrive in the NHL, especially when it comes to play in their own zone.

That was no different for Hanifin. 

"I think coming into the league, defensively, that was my biggest area of weakness; adapting and getting better in that area of the game," explained Hanifin. "But that's something I've worked on a lot and I think I'm pretty comfortable with myself defensively now. I think I'm at a point where I can take a few more chances."

With no glaring weaknesses to his game at this point that need to be addressed, Hanifin sees his development as one of progression and fine-tuning, along with hopefully expanding his play in the attacking zone. 

"Just getting better in all areas, especially offensively," he said. "Push a little but more offensively, using my skating to jump into the play a little more often - trying to incorporate those pieces into my game."

Of course, that's easier said than done. There's a reason that the stable of effective and efficient offensive defencemen in the NHL is a relatively small one.

"It's tough," acknowledged Hanifin. "Some of the best offensive defenceman, they do a good job of picking and choosing - knowing when to jump. They have good timing. I think that comes with experience and playing a lot of games. I think each year I'm starting to get more and more comfortable and understand the game, the timing of things. I think that'll help me."

 

 

While there were plenty of questions in the recent Flames training camp as to who would make the final roster, who would skate on what line, and which defencemen would be coupled up together when the puck dropped in the Mile High City, one thing that was never in doubt was where Hanifin would slot in - beside partner Travis Hamonic as one of the league's most rock-solid blueline pairings. 

This on-ice relationship - strengthened by a close off-ice friendship - should be key to helping Hanifin realize his desire to contribute more on the scoresheet when opportunities arise.

"Yeah, absolutely," he agreed. "You know, he's very steady back there, especially defensively.

"So I think playing with a guy like him, I think I can be more willing to jump in the play knowing he's back there holding the ground … I know he'll lock everything down."

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