– The microphone at BB&T Center crackled as Carolina Hurricanes Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis
was announcing the team’s fifth overall draft pick, muffling the audio ever so slightly.
That was about the only thing that didn’t go right for the Canes in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. And even still, there was no doubt of the name Francis called out: Noah Hanifin, Boston College.
Hanifin, 18, was the consensus best defensive prospect available, and NHL’s Central Scouting Service ranked him third among North American skaters. There was wonder if he’d even be available at No. 5.
After the surefire first two picks of the draft were made – a formality, really – Arizona and Toronto both selected forwards.
“When we looked at it, we thought there was a chance he’d be there at five,” Francis said. “We were hoping he’d be there, and fortunately enough for us, he was.”
“He was certainly a guy we had our eye on,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes director of amateur scouting. “Things rather fell in to place for us. You never really know until the picks are made, but it fell our way. We ended up with the player we wanted, so we’re quite happy with that.”
As is the case with every drafted prospect, Hanifin took to the stage after his name was called. He donned a Hurricanes home red sweater for the first time, snapped photos with Carolina management and exchanged a few celebratory words.
“I was just thanking them, and I told them I was going to work as hard as I can for them,” Hanifin said. “I got a really good vibe with the staff there and Ron Francis. I wanted to go to a team that wanted me, and they saw something in me. I’m extremely proud to be wearing this sweater right now.”
The selection of Hanifin marks the second year in a row in which the Hurricanes have taken a defenseman with their first-round pick. Last year, the Canes stocked 6-foot-3, 207-pound Haydn Fleury into their prospect pool. Hanifin, 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, is another big, mobile defenseman that bolsters the team’s defensive depth.
“We haven’t seen the best of Noah Hanifin yet, and what we have right now is a pretty good player. The upside is significant. He has the chance to be a real horse at the NHL level for a long, long time,” MacDoanld said. “We think we have a good group of defensemen now. He just adds to and enhances that.”
Hanifin and Fleury are just two young defensemen waiting in the wings. There’s also Trevor Carrick, Tyler Ganly, Brett Pesce, Dennis Robertson and Josh Wesley to name a few. And don’t forget Roland McKeown, acquired from Los Angeles this spring.
“We think we’ve got some real solid defensemen in the pipeline,” Francis said. “We’re going to build from the back-end out. [Hanifin] is another great addition to that core.”
When Hanifin arrives on the Canes’ blue line remains to be seen – it could be as early as the 2015-16 season – but when that does happen, the All-American pair of Justin Faulk and Hanifin could be one to behold.
“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. “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.”
“[The NHL] is definitely going to be a step up in every aspect. It’s a lot faster and more physical. You’re playing against men,” Hanifin said. “I think the biggest jump going into the NHL isn’t even the hockey aspect; it’s the mental aspect. Making that jump is a very tough thing to do. … It’s a business now, and you have to perform every night. I think that’s probably going to be the toughest thing.”
Tonight was the first step in Hanifin realizing his dream of playing in the NHL, an “unbelievable feeling,” as he described it.
“I’m just a hard-working guy,” he 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.”
It was an ideal and fortunate first day for the Canes and Hanifin alike, and the future looks ever so bright for the Hurricanes’ defense.
“We’re certainly headed in the right direction,” Francis said. “We could be a year or two away from having a young, big and mobile defense. That’s what you need in today’s game.”
“I’m a two-way guy who can contribute offensively,” Hanifin said, asked to describe himself. “I play a lot of minutes, play against the top lines of other teams and work as hard as possible to help them win a Stanley Cup.”