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Building off a breakthrough: Noah Hanifin

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

If you took merely a cursory glance at Noah Hanifin‘s numbers during his final season with the Carolina Hurricanes, it might not seem like he experienced much of a breakthrough.

His points total only rose by three (29 to 32), and Hanifin’s ice time only spiked by about a minute (17:55 per game in 2016-17 to 18:52 average TOI last season). Once you dig a little deeper, it’s plausible that Hanifin’s really starting to climb the ranks, although he still faces big expectations considering the fact that he was the main takeaway from the polarizing Dougie Hamilton trade and was selected fifth overall in 2015.

[Looking back at Flames’ 2017-18]

For one thing, Hanifin scored more goals last season (10) than he generated in his first two seasons in the NHL (eight overall, four in each campaign). Hanifin’s possession stats also skyrocketed, as he became very much a positive player relative to his Hurricanes teammates after being on the other end in his previous two campaigns.

Take a look at this eye-friendly chart (via CJ Turtoro using  Corey Sznajder’s entry/exit data), and you’ll see that there was a pretty dramatic leap from 2016-17 to 2017-18, aside from a curious drop in defending entries. (Click here for the Hamilton vs. Hanifin comparison by those metrics, which is quite fascinating.)

(The improvement is even more dramatic according to other nice visualizations, such as his year-to-year SKATR score.)

Will the price be right?

The young defenseman also figures to see a breakthrough for his bank account, with the biggest questions revolving around “How much?” and “For how long?”

Matt Cane’s projection is for two years at a $2,336,359 clip per season. That would honestly stand as a pretty great value for what Hanifin is and could be, but will be interesting to see if the Flames and/or the RFA defenseman seek a longer-term decision.

“He’s certainly a priority for us. I’ve been speaking with his representatives regularly. I’d say we’re making progress,” Treliving told Sportsnet 960 on July 25. “We’ll get him signed. The fact he doesn’t have arbitration rights doesn’t make him any less of a priority for us.”

There are a lot of pieces to evaluate in the big trade that sent Hanifin to the Flames. Will Elias Lindholm be worth a touch less than $5M per season, and might he be an upgrade over Micheal Ferland? Will Adam Fox make the Flames regret the trade as much as anyone else?

It’s plausible that Hamilton will be the best player in the trade, yet the bar for success will be lower if Hanifin costs about $3M less per season than Hamilton’s $5.75M.

Room to improve?

Like it or not, people are going to compare Hamilton and Hanifin for years. Even in the very likely event that Hanifin’s contract is cheaper than Hamilton’s, that’s still a lot of pressure to absorb.

Hockey fans – and sports fans – are frequently guilty of dreaming up potential for youngsters, sometimes imagining possible production that was never going to happen. There’s a risk there with Hanifin, no doubt.

Still, it really is possible that Hanifin hasn’t hit his ceiling yet. He’s just 21, and he hasn’t really received bountiful ice time to truly stretch his legs. The Flames need all the help they can get on defense beyond Mark Giordano, so Hanifin should get a legitimate chance to prove that he’s as good or better than Hamilton.

It should be entertaining to see what the speedy American defenseman can pull off next season and beyond.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Huberdeau shootout hero for Panthers; Saros to the rescue

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

A pretty eventful game against the Washington Capitals came to an end thanks to Huberdeau’s winner in the fourth round of the shootout. After the Panthers stormed out to a 4-1 first period lead, the Capitals clawed back in the second to even the score. But it was Huberdeau’s second of the season that gave Florida its lead back. After a Nicklas Backstrom goal late in the third tied it up, we were off to a shootout where Huberdeau ended things to cap off a three-point night in a 6-5 victory.

2. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild

The Wild netminder stopped 33 shots, including 24(!) in the second period during a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars. Matt Dumba and Ryan Suter scored 3:17 apart midway through the third period to erase a Dallas lead and put Minnesota in front for good.

3. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

Pekka Rinne left the game with 14:51 left in the third period and Saros would stop all nine shots he faced in relief to help secure a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames. Zac Rinaldo snapped a 3-3 tie 6:31 into the third period for his first of the year. Saros was tested immediately after entering the game, denying Elias Lindholm in tight.

Highlights of the Night

Ryan Suter went with the bank shot for the game-winning goal against the Stars:

Aleksander Barkov continues to be ridiculous in the shootout:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Panthers 6, Capitals 5 (SO)
Wild 3, Stars 1
Predators 5, Flames 3

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Dubnyk leads Wild during 3-1 win over Stars

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The Dallas Stars did what they could to try and solve Devan Dubnyk Friday night but only could beat the Minnesota Wild netminder once during a 3-1 defeat.

After a quiet first period, the Stars used the second period to test Dubnyk frequently. They fired 24 shots on the Minnesota net but were denied each and every time. Dubnyk would finish with 33 saves to earn his third victory of the season.

“You’ve just got to work as hard as you can,” Dubnyk said afterward. “I know if I can hold the fort down as long as I can, we’ll get there.”

The third period was a different story and where the game flipped. Jason Spezza deflected a Miro Heiskanen shot to finally give the Stars their first goal, but after that it was all Wild in a period where they outshot Dallas 14-4. Nine minutes after Spezza’s goal Matt Dumba would put home a loose puck in front of Ben Bishop to even the score.

Three minutes later the Wild would grab the lead for good as Ryan Suter‘s shot from below the goal line deflected in off of Stars defenseman Esa Lindell for a 2-1 lead.

Suter’s goal and assist helped him hit 500 points in his career, making him the 11th U.S.-born defenseman in NHL history to reach the milestone.

Dallas had no answer for Dubnyk as they dropped their third in a row and fourth in their last five games.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Coyotes’ Dvorak sidelined indefinitely by torn pectoral

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona Coyotes center Christian Dvorak is sidelined indefinitely after having surgery Friday to repair a torn pectoral muscle.

“We looked at our options and decided that surgery was our best option to get him back as soon as possible,” Chayka told reporters on Friday. “He had the procedure this morning and it went very well. Now it’s the road to recovery and it’ll be a number of months.”

Dvorak was injured last week during a rehab skate for an unrelated injury.

“The doctors told us it’s a fairly unique injury, especially for hockey players, and then the severity of the tear, it differs from person to person,” Chayka said. “You hope it’s not the season, but it’s not out of the question.”

The 22-year-old Dvorak has yet to play this season, his third with the Coyotes. He had 15 goals in each of his first two seasons.

WATCH LIVE: Wild visit Stars on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday night’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app and by clicking here.

As the Stars look to get back to winning ways they likely will be without Alexander Radulov Friday night. A lower-body injury could keep him out against the Wild, which would see Roope Hintz bumped up to the top line, according to head coach Jim Montgomery. Connor Carrick remains out after not showing enough during his time in the lineup, opening the door for Roman Polak to state his case.

Making a return for the Wild will be captain Mikko Koivu after he missed Tuesday’s game for the birth of his son Oskar. Marcus Foligno will also be back.

Meanwhile, it was last April in Dallas where Wild defenseman Ryan Suter suffered a broken ankle. As he once again eats major minutes (26:12 per game) on a nightly basis, he still has some hesitatation when it comes to plays near the boards.

“At different points going back for pucks I try not to put myself in that situation quite yet,” Suter said via the Star Tribune. “That play probably happens five or 10 times [per game]. It’s hard to get around it. You’re a little more hesitant. You think about it a little bit more. Hopefully soon that won’t be on my mind.”

WHAT: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
WHERE: American Airlines Center
WHEN: Friday, October 19th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Wild-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

WILD
Jason ZuckerEric StaalMatt Read
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Mikael Granlund
Nino NiederreiterCharlie CoyleJordan Greenway
Nate ProsserEric FehrJ.T. Brown

Ryan Suter – Matt Dumba
Jonas BrodinJared Spurgeon
Nick SeelerGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

STARS
Jamie BennTyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov/Roope Hintz
Devin ShoreJason SpezzaTyler Pitlick
Mattias JanmarkRadek FaksaBlake Comeau
Jason Dickinson – Roope Hintz/Gemel SmithBrett Ritchie

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Marc MethotMiro Heiskanen
Julius Honka – Roman Polak

Starting goalie: Ben Bishop