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Hanifin, Fleury among Hurricanes' top five prospects

by Staff Writer / Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes' pool of young talent received a big boost at the 2015 NHL Draft.

General manager Ron Francis had the fifth pick in the first round and wound up with the consensus No. 1 defenseman, Noah Hanifin, who excelled in his freshman season at Boston College. Francis wasted little time getting Hanifan's signature on a contract during development camp last month.

Hanifin joins a prospect pool that's already deep on defense but thinner in scoring punch. Most of the Hurricanes' top young players are defensemen, though 2015 second-round pick Sebastian Aho, a right wing, turned heads at development camp.

Here are the Hurricanes' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Noah Hanifin, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 5), 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Boston College, H-EAST: 37 GP, 5-18-23

The thought of having Hanifin and Justin Faulk as a first pair has to please coach Bill Peters. Though Hanifin didn't turn 18 until halfway through his freshman season at BC, he was a second-team all-star in Hockey East.

Hanifin (6-foot-3, 206 pounds) has the size to play in the NHL. He's an excellent skater, has a high hockey IQ, and the poise of a veteran. Though Francis said Hanifin won't be rushed to the NHL, he has the kind of two-way game that is likely to keep him in Carolina and is the sort of defenseman franchises try to build around.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

2. Haydn Fleury, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 7), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Red Deer, WHL: 63 GP, 6-22-28; Charlotte, AHL: 1 GP, 1-0-1

Fleury and Hanifin spent development camp as roommates, and it's not impossible they could do the same in Carolina this season. The Hurricanes envision them as cornerstones in the not-too-distant future.

Fleury's offensive numbers were down last season; he said one reason was that he tried to emphasize being stronger in the corners and in front of his own net, something that's vital for a 6-foot-3, 207-pound defenseman. The trade that brought veteran James Wisniewski from the Anaheim Ducks might keep Fleury from making the Hurricanes this season, but at worst, the 19-year-old should be ready for a full-time NHL job after another season with Red Deer.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

3. Alex Nedeljkovic, G

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 37), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Plymouth, OHL: 55 GP, 20-28-7, 3.13 GAA, .916 save percentage; Florida, ECHL: 3 GP, 2-1-0, 3.38 GAA, .841 save percentage

Carolina signed Nedeljkovic to a contract in March, following his third season with Plymouth. At 6-foot, 190 pounds, he's not as big as a lot of NHL goaltenders but reads plays well and has a sound positional game.

Nedeljkovic won't turn 20 until January, meaning that if he doesn't make the Hurricanes, he'll return for a final season in junior hockey with Flint (after the Plymouth franchise was sold and relocated). With Cam Ward and Eddie Lack each one season away from NHL free agency, the path to the No. 1 job in Carolina could be wide-open by the time Nedeljkovic is ready.

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

4. Jaccob Slavin, D

How acquired: 4th round (No. 120), 2012 NHL Draft

Last season: Colorado College, NCHC: 34 GP, 5-12-17

Slavin, 21, signed with the Hurricanes on July 1 and will likely start his pro career with Charlotte in the American Hockey League. He was the NCHC rookie of the year in 2013-14 after getting 25 points in 32 games for Colorado College, and was first-team all-conference in 2014-15 playing on a last-place team.

Slavin (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) is a smooth skater and puck-mover. With Hanifin and Haydn ahead of him on the depth chart, the Hurricanes can take their time and let Slavin get into the rotation when he's ready.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

5. Trevor Carrick, D

How acquired: 4th round (No. 115), 2012 NHL Draft

Last season: Charlotte, AHL: 76 GP, 7-25-32

Carrick, 21, was tops among Charlotte defensemen and third on the Checkers with 32 points in 2014-15, his first pro season, after scoring 22 goals with 51 points in his final junior season.

Carrick (6-foot-2, 186 pounds) will have to add strength to take the next step in his career. His big shot and offensive play are positives, although he'll be trying to earn a spot on a blue line that figures to be very competitive by the time he's ready.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Managing Editor

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