Carolina Hurricanes prospect Noah Hanifin is hoping to follow the footsteps of Aaron Ekblad and make the leap to the NHL after being the top defenseman selected in his draft class.
The 18-year-old, Norwood, MA native is going to get every opportunity be in the ‘Canes opening night lineup despite the crowded blue line in Carolina.
“We certainly think with his skating ability and his size, he has the potential to step in and play, but we’re certainly not going to rush him in that regard,” GM Ron Francis told the team’s website recently. “I think if you look at history, a lot of young defensemen take a little longer to develop.
“There have been more and more (defensemen) recently that have been able to step in and not only contribute, but have tremendous success.”
Carolina’s fifth overall selection in the June draft scored five goals and 23 points in 37 regular season games with Boston College last season.
His experience playing against older players while with the Eagles is one of the reasons Francis believes Hanifin will be able to make jump to the NHL this season.
“You look at what he did as a 17-year-old, he jammed in a bunch of classes to make sure he’s eligible for college and at 17 was playing against guys in that league that are 22, 23 and not only held his own, but excelled,” Francis said.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound blue liner believes with a full offseason of training he’ll be prepared for the NHL game.
“There’s a lot of good defensemen here and nothing is guaranteed. I’m going to put in a lot of good work this summer up until camp and I’m hoping I’m going to make it,” he said after signing his entry-level contract. “The pace of the game is going to be a lot higher, but with all the training I’m going to be putting in this summer, if I can continue to get better, I feel that I can go in (to camp) and do OK, do well.”
In order to make the leap, Hanifin will have to beat out some stiff competition. The ‘Canes currently have eight blue liners with NHL experience under contract for next season.
Coach Bill Peters is looking forward to watching the competition.
“What I see is there’s going to be an unbelievable competition on the back end between Hanifin, you’ve got (Haydn) Fleury, you got (Brett) Pesce you got (Jaccob) Slavin and then you’ve got all your returning guys,” Peters said following the club’s development camp. “I think the competition there is going to be very high and we’re just going to give everybody an opportunity and see who takes advantage of it.”