In his first professional shootout attempt, Slavin trusted his go-to move that he’s used his whole life, skating in from center ice, faking to his forehand and then going to his backhand, top-shelf past Andrew Hammond. (Or as Slavin described it – peanut butter).
The goal cemented the win for the Canes and was a testament to the responsibility given to the 21-year-old defensemen throughout the 2015-16 season.
Slavin made his NHL debut on November 20, when the Canes hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs in what was a 2-1 shootout loss. The rookie defenseman logged 13:30 of ice time and blocked two shots.
In the next two weeks, Slavin would net his first NHL point, an assist on Victor Rask’s goal at Madison Square Garden, and his first NHL goal, tapping in a rebound past Kari Lehtonen in Dallas.
These two milestones were just the beginning of a breakout rookie season for Slavin.
After playing 63 games at the NHL level, he admits that he even surprised himself throughout his rookie campaign.
“I don’t think I expected to be up here much this year,” Slavin said. “The call came in November and I just tried to take advantage of my opportunity and just help the team in any way that I can. It was definitely a treat being up here most of the year.”
The Canes’ blue line dealt with injuries from day one of the 2015-16 season with James Wisniewski tearing his ACL just 47 seconds into the season and Ryan Murphy suffering a concussion in mid-November. These injuries left a window of opportunity for a couple of young defensemen playing in Charlotte.
“I think our plan was to let these kids play in Charlotte … and then work them into our lineup as the season went along,” Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis said. “Because of injuries and circumstances, we had to kind of throw them into the fire early.”
Slavin stepped up to the challenge and contributed top-line minutes for the Canes, averaging 21 minutes of ice time and adding 20 points (2g, 18a).
“It gives you some confidence in your rookie year, being able to play minutes like that, to just have that kind of opportunity,” he said.
Slavin was drafted by Carolina in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft (120th overall). The Denver, Colo., native then spent two seasons playing for Colorado College.
Playing just 34 games for the Tigers last year, Slavin nearly doubled that this season with the Canes. The grind of an NHL season can wear on any rookie, but with the help of the coaching staff and his teammates, Slavin quickly acclimated to life as a professional hockey player.
“What impressed me the most about them (Slavin, Hanifin and Pesce) was their maturity, not only on the ice but off the ice, too,” Canes’ goaltender Cam Ward said. “That’s how you know those kids are for real. They’ll be big parts of this organization for a longtime, and I had fun playing with them.”
Slavin said that he learned a lot about routines from watching the veteran guys and learned to work towards getting better each day.
“Every day is a new day and you have to compete every single day. Every game is different,” he said. “Personnel on each team is different so you have to learn to adapt to that and their playing style.”
Slavin’s work ethic and attitude helped establish himself as one of the top rookie defensemen in the league, which was perhaps one of Carolina’s bigger surprises of 2015-16.
“You’re not going to have your best game every day, but you can control your work ethic,” Wisniewski said. “I think the younger guys really did an exceptional job of that.”
Slavin finished second in time on ice for rookies across the league and first among rookies that played at least 20 NHL games. Throughout the season, he averaged 2:06 short-handed time on ice per game, contributing to the Canes’ penalty kill, which ranked sixth in the league.
His 54 takeaways ranked third among NHL defensemen and first among rookie blueliners.
Pretty impressive for a 21-year-old that started training camp dressing in the visitor’s locker room, just hoping to make an impression.
Slavin gives credit to his wife Kylie for keeping him grounded throughout the season.
“I wouldn’t have been here without my wife so it was a lot of help having her here,” he said. “She was supporting me the whole way.”
Jaccob and Kylie, along with their goldendoodle, plan on staying in Raleigh for most of the summer and are looking forward to some home and family life.
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