– For the second year in a row, the Carolina Hurricanes selected a defenseman with their first-round draft pick. Last year, it was Haydn Fleury
. This year, it was Noah Hanifin.
Hanifin, a 6-foot-3, 203-pound United States-born blueliner, was considered the top defensive prospect available in the 2015 NHL Draft, and the NHL’s Central Scouting Service ranked him third among North American skaters.
After four straight selections of forwards and the Hurricanes on the clock at No. 5, Hanifin was the first defenseman to come off the board.
“I can’t even really describe it right now,” Hanifin said in his first media scrum as a member of the Hurricanes’ organization. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
“Things rather fell in to place for us. You never really know until the picks are made, but it fell our way,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes’ head of amateur scouting. “We ended up with the player we wanted, so we’re quite happy with that.”
On and off the ice, the Canes were impressed with the 18-year-old Hanifin.
On the ice with Boston College in the 2014-15 season, Hanifin, the youngest player ever to play for the Eagles at 17, recorded 23 points (5g, 18a) in 37 games. He ranked third among freshman NCAA Division I defensemen in points.
Internationally, Hanifin boasts golden credentials. He captained Team USA to a gold medal at the 2014 World U-17 Hockey Challenge with three points (1g, 2a) in six games. He also captured gold with the American squad at the 2014 U-18 World Junior Championship with five points (1g, 4a) in seven games, good for second-best among tournament defensemen. Most recently, Hanifin competed with Team USA at the 2015 World Junior Championship and notched two assists in five contests.
“He’s just a solid individual. Very true, genuine and hard-working. He’s 6-foot-3 and skates extremely well. He’s still very young,” said Canes Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis. “We do think there’s a lot of growth potential in his game, and we’re excited to have him as a part of the Hurricanes.”
“Much like Haydn Fleury, his game is still evolving. We haven’t seen the best of Noah Hanifin yet, and what we have right now is a pretty good player,” MacDonald said. “The upside is significant. He has the chance to be a real horse at the NHL level for a long, long time.”
Hanifin’s maturity level is equally matched off the ice.
“I’m just a hard-working guy,” Hanifin said. “I come from Boston, which is a blue-collar town. My parents are extremely hard-working people who made a lot of sacrifices to help me get here. I’m going to take those characteristics to Carolina.”
“He is a young man who is very articulate and expresses himself very well. He has a good sense of who he is,” MacDonald said. “He’s got a sense of purpose and direction and understands where he is in his hockey career.”
“He’s a very, very mature kid. The answers he gave in the interviews were solid,” Francis said. “He’s very focused and very driven. He wants to be an NHL player, and he’s going to do everything he can to have a great career.”
Hanifin, a self-described two-way defenseman, says he models his game after a number of NHL blueliners. One is Drew Doughty, who was narrowly edged by Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the Norris Trophy this year. Another is a Stanley Cup Champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
“My favorite defenseman is probably Duncan Keith. I love the way he plays. He plays against the top lines and plays 30 minutes a night, and that’s something I can see myself doing down the road,” Hanifin said. “I don’t see why I can’t be like that in five or six years if I keep working hard and learning.”
What’s next for Hanifin? He still has three years of collegiate eligibility remaining, and while a decision on where he plays in 2015-16 won’t be made at this point in time, he feels he could compete in the NHL. The Canes would welcome that.
“As far as my abilities go, I’m very confident in myself. If I needed to go play, I could absolutely do it, but as of right now I’m undecided,” Hanifin said. “I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can, proving my skills and getting stronger in the gym. We’ll see what happens.”
“I think his game is at a point where going back to college isn’t going to improve his game. I think he’s beyond that at this point in time,” MacDonald said. “With young defensemen, it’s asking a lot for them to come in and play right away. I think we’d like to give him that opportunity to prove that he’s ready to go.”
“The way Bill Peters wants our team to play, this is a nice piece for that style of game and what we want to accomplish on our back-end,” Francis said. “Like everybody else, he’s going to have to earn it in training camp.”
Hanifin’s journey with the Canes begins tonight.
“I wanted to go to a team that wanted me,” Hanifin said, smiling. “Obviously Carolina saw something in me, and I’m going to work as hard as I can for this organization.”