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Hurricanes' Hanifin confident he can play at NHL level

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Carolina Hurricanes rookie defenseman Noah Hanifin understands why he was a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career, and although no player enjoys being told that he won't suit up for a game, the 18-year-old feels the break was beneficial.

After playing Carolina's first eight games, Hanifin was scratched for a 3-1 victory at the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

"The coaching staff kind of wanted me to refresh a little bit and go up top and watch the game and see it from a different perspective just because I've been playing at a high level the past eight games," Hanifin told NHL.com Wednesday during a tour of the League offices. "It was nice to take a breather, watch and see how it's supposed to be played. If I'm in against the Islanders, I just hope to keep it going."

When questioned about the benching, Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said he just wanted to "freshen him up, that's all it is." Hanifin hopes to be back in the lineup Thursday, when the Hurricanes complete a seven-game road trip with a game against the New York Islanders (7 p.m. ET; FS-CR, MSG+).

Hanifin's visit included a 10-minute chat with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and a session with fans via Periscope that drew 1,319 total viewers during a 10:21 live stream. Many of those questions involved his feelings about getting the night off, as well as thoughts about his rookie season.

The Hurricanes have one more game to figure out if the left-handed defenseman is indeed NHL-ready. Once Hanifin plays his 10th NHL game, the first year of the three-year, entry-level contract he signed in July is burned. This would appear to be the likely scenario.

If the Hurricanes feel he's not NHL-ready, they could send him to Charlotte of the American Hockey League or the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League; the Remparts selected Hanifin in the second round (No. 26) of the 2013 QMJHL entry draft. The Hurricanes drafted him after his freshman season at Boston College, meaning he can be sent to the AHL.

Hanifin has yet to be told whether he will remain with the Hurricanes.

"The coaching staff hasn't said anything to me, and I don't expect them to," Hanifin said. "In this business you have to show up and perform every day, and that's where my mindset is. I don't think anyone is guaranteed anything, so for me, I'm just going to try and go out and keep playing hard."

Hanifin had one assist, averaged nearly 22 minutes of ice time and saw time on the power-play and penalty-killing units during the preseason. He has two assists and has averaged 16:57 in eight regular-season games. He has been utilized more on the power play than the penalty kill, is fifth on the team in blocked shots (six) and eighth among rookie defensemen in hits (five). Hanifin also ranks eighth among all rookies in the League in SAT/60 (8.40).

"I can only speak for myself, but I know I can play at this level and now I'm experiencing it," Hanifin said. "There are some things I still need to work on and that's going to happen. I know I'll make mistakes throughout the year because that's how it is, since it's such a hard League. But I know I can keep up with the speed and physicality of the game.

"When I have the puck, I feel pretty confident out there."

Hanifin, who lives with Hurricanes forward Nathan Gerbe, has been everything the organization envisioned when it selected him No. 5 in the 2015 NHL Draft. It was quite a compliment that Hanifin remained with the team out of training camp; general manager Ron Francis is a big believer in having prospects mature and grow in the minor leagues.

"It was awesome when [Francis] told me I would stick out of training camp to begin the season," Hanifin said. "Entering camp there was a big competition with a lot of really good, young defensemen coming into the organization, pushing for spots. Being able to play and contribute and learn are the biggest things."

Hanifin's 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame, skating ability and smarts earned him NHL Central Scouting's top ranking among defenseman heading into the 2015 draft.

"I'm using this year as a learning process for maybe a few years down the road when I hope to be one of the best players and help the Hurricanes be successful," Hanifin said. "I think I've learned a lot in only a month or two here in Carolina."

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