Noah Hanifin

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Looking to make the leap: Haydn Fleury

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

The Carolina Hurricanes have built an impressive stockpile of young defensemen, arguably the best in the NHL.

Looking at their current NHL roster there isn’t one defensemen under contract for this season that is over the age of 26, while three of their best — and youngest — are all signed to long-term deals. Not only are they young, they are also already really, really good and just need a more stable goaltending situation behind them to help the Hurricanes take a big leap forward this season.

For as good and promising as that group already is, there is another young player in the pipeline that hasn’t even had a chance to make an impact yet in 2014 first-round pick (No. 7 overall) Haydn Fleury.

The 21-year-old Fleury is coming off of his first year of pro hockey, spending the 2016-17 season with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Other than missing part of the season due to injury it was mostly a successful pro debut for the young rearguard, appearing in 69 games and scoring seven goals to go with 19 assists and showing considerable improvement down the stretch following a slow start.

The logjam of young defensemen already in Carolina is going to make it tough for Fleury to crack the lineup, but the No. 6 spot on the blue line does seem to be up for grabs between him and Klas Dahlbeck. Even if he doesn’t grab that spot at the start of the season it seems reasonable to assume that at some point during the season — whether it be due to injury, a trade, or just a lack of performance from somebody else — that he is going to make his NHL debut.

When he does it will be just another promising young player added to a defensive core that already boasts Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Given the contracts Faulk, Slavin and Pesce are signed to, and the fact Hanifin and Fleury are still on their entry level deals it gives the Hurricanes a ton of flexibility when it comes to constructing their roster. Any of them would be attractive pieces in trade talks to make improvements elsewhere, or they can be the foundation of the defense — and the team itself — for the next six or seven years for a remarkably affordable price.

Hurricanes bet big again on young defense by extending Brett Pesce

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The Carolina Hurricanes are wasting no time in locking up their defensemen of the future this summer.

Jaccob Slavin still has one year remaining on his rookie deal, yet they extended him for seven years at $5.3 million per season earlier this summer. They did something similar with fellow defenseman Brett Pesce today, handing him a six-year extension with a $4.025 million cap hit.

(That works out to $24.15 million overall.)

“Brett took another big step forward last season,” GM Ron Francis said. “He plays a smart defensive game and has good ability to move the puck and contribute offensively. We plan for him to be a part of the Hurricanes’ defensive corps for a long time.”

Much like Slavin, Pesce still has a year remaining on his current deal, so that $4.025M won’t begin until 2018-19.

During his sophomore season, Pesce saw big gains. He played all 82 regular-season games for the Hurricanes, generating 20 points and averaging 21:12 TOI, up from 18:46 during his rookie season.

Pesce’s offense was pretty average, but he showed serious promise in his own end, particularly for a player who is only 22.

Pesce and Slavin join Justin Faulk as Hurricanes defensemen with at least three-year commitments. Carolina still has three other blueliners slated to become RFAs next summer, including Noah Hanifin, whose value could really climb if his 2017-18 season goes well.

Hurricanes lock up Slavin through 2024-25

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The Carolina Hurricanes announced a big signing today. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin has agreed to a seven-year contract extension with a $5.3 million cap hit.

Slavin has one year left on his entry-level deal, so this takes him through 2024-25.

“Jaccob is one of the cornerstones of our team moving forward, and it was important to secure him with our organization long term,” said GM Ron Francis in a statement. “We believe he is one of the top young defensemen in the NHL today, and are thrilled that he and his wife, Kylie, have made their home in Raleigh.”

From the press release:

Slavin, 23, posted career highs in points (34), goals (3), assists (29) and shorthanded points (4) during his first full NHL season in 2016-17. The Erie, CO, native led the Hurricanes in blocked shots (161), takeaways (83), time on ice per game (23:26) and shorthanded time on ice per game (3:07), and was tied for first in plus/minus with a plus-23 rating, the fourth-best plus/minus season in franchise history. Slavin ranked second in the NHL in takeaways, first among league defensemen in shorthanded points and tied for 10th among league blueliners in plus/minus.

The ‘Canes also have defenseman Justin Faulk signed for three more years, with youngsters Brett PesceNoah Hanifin, and Trevor van Riemsdyk all on cheap cap hits next season before they can become restricted free agents.

Slavin was a fourth-round draft pick in 2012 out of the USHL.

Related: Scott Darling trade ‘worth the risk’ for Hurricanes

Carolina has the ‘open for business sign out there’

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Ron Francis is ready to make more deals.

Heading into the offseason, Francis had 11 draft picks at this June’s draft, and already used one — a third-rounder — to acquire Scott Darling from Chicago.

Now, the Hurricanes GM is prepared to use more in the hopes of adding to the roster.

“We’ve got the open for business sign out there,” Francis said Wednesday, per the News & Observer. “We’re in a unique situation with the amount of picks we have and the amount of prospects we have. It’ll be interesting.

“Really what it comes down to is what teams want: Do they want a player back for the asset they don’t have to protect or are they willing to take some picks and prospects?”

It’s pretty obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters is to get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

It sounds like more than just picks could be in play.

The News & Observer said the ‘Canes “aren’t agonizing” over the expansion draft, as the team has a pretty good idea of who’ll be exposed. So it could be a case of identifying the players that will remain, and seeing what assets they may fetch in return.

There’s been speculation that the Hurricanes might be willing to move Noah Hanifin. Though it might seem strange to dangle a gifted 20-year-old d-man with loads of potential, Carolina has good depth on the blueline with Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. It’s expected that prospects Roland McKeown and Haydn Fleury will push for NHL jobs next year, and there’s still ’16 first-rounder Jake Bean on the horizon.

Francis also has another asset at his disposal — cap space.

It’s what allowed the ‘Canes to snag Teuvo Teravainen from Chicago for the price of taking on Bryan Bickell‘s contract. Another similar move could very well be in the cards, especially when the NHL releases next year’s cap ceiling figure.

After locking up Zaitsev, Leafs hoping to ‘add’ to defense

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Add the Toronto Maple Leafs to the list of teams that would like to bolster their defense this offseason.

Yesterday, the Leafs locked up Nikita Zaitsev on a seven-year deal. They’ve also got Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner back there.

Another top-four d-man would help.

“We certainly have three individuals under contract — in Gardiner, Rielly and Zaitsev right now — that bring a certain style and certain dimension, and we have a couple of younger players, and we have a couple of free agents that we have to make decisions on,” GM Lou Lamoriello said, per NHL.com. “But I think we have to add to that group, and not make decisions just for simply adding. They have to be people who come in and help.”

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, there are newspaper columns encouraging the Canucks to shop Chris Tanev.

Or perhaps Carolina would be a good place for the Leafs to look. There’s been speculation that the Hurricanes might be willing to move Noah Hanifin.

Or maybe the expansion draft will shake something loose on another team.

But for a legitimate top-four defenseman, preferably a right shot, the Leafs will have to pay up. They’ll likely be asked to part with William Nylander. Assuming that’s a non-starter, they could always counter with Kasperi Kapanen or Carl Grundstrom, but they’d probably have to sweeten it with something else.

Again, Toronto isn’t alone in wanting to bolster its back end. Buffalo and Colorado are even more desperate to do so.

And we all know the price the Oilers paid to get Adam Larsson last summer.

Related: Are the Leafs getting into ‘go for it’ territory?