When Jaccob Slavin was recalled from Charlotte, he became the third (behind Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce) young Hurricanes defenseman to make his NHL debut this season. The future of the Hurricanes blue line looked bright in early June and has seen significant optimism upgrades literally monthly since then. Jaccob Slavin is just the latest in a string of positive stories involving the future of the Carolina Hurricanes defense which is very quickly creeping its way into the present.
Only 3 games deep in his NHL career, it is too early to do any detailed evaluations with any kind of finality to them. He is probably just now shaking off the ‘I made it!’ combination of adrenaline rush and butterflies. But in the name of something fun and exciting I wanted to offer first impressions.
With the puck
The most striking thing in watching Jaccob Slavin so far is his comfort, confidence and even a bit of swagger playing with the puck on his stick. He already multiple trips deep into the offensive zone carrying the puck past the offensive blue line and harkening back to the days of Joni Pitkanen. Slavin already demonstrates pretty good vision and awareness for when/where there are openings and when there are not. Very common for young skating defensemen just breaking in at the NHL level is to skate into a bunch of dead ends/traps. Slavin seems advanced relative to his nearly non-existent experience level (in terms of NHL or even AHL experience) in his ability to read positioning and openings on the ice. He has also shown a decent knack for using his skating ability to set up forward passes.
For Canes fans, I think the reference point for this is Ryan Murphy. Murphy has made significant progress, but in his first stint or 2 at the NHL level he could often find a skating lane and fly through it often to a dead end in the offensive zone when he flew right by his offensive help. At the time, Murphy lacked the ability to use his skating to open and exploit passing lanes, get the puck forward and then support it from behind.
My early read on Slavin is that he is more advanced in terms of reading the ice and situations in front of him. He also has a real nice ability to cut laterally to jump into a different skating lane which is the key for opening up passing lanes.
Summary: I am impressed with Slavin’s confidence and ability to step right into the NHL and still play his game versus dialing it back while he adjusts (I think this is where Hanifin is right now). I also like his vision; it is not just about flying up the ice out of control. Finally, I think he is the most advanced of the 3 rookies (I put Murphy in a different non-pure rookie category) in terms of readiness to push pace, attack and generate offense.
Without the puck
His fine preseason run ended with a ‘but he is still learning’ event when in a late preseason game he was first undressed by Alexander Ovechkin 1-on-1 and then saw his game unravel a bit to the tune of a couple other ‘oopses’ and a bit of franticness under pressure. It did not tarnish his solid training camp, but it did provide a reminder that he was still young, with some learning yet to do and minus any experience higher than NCAA hockey.
Since then he has built quite a professional base with a ton of minutes and solid play in Charlotte before being re-immersed in the NHL. In his 3 NHL games, he has had a few struggles here and there, but like his current partner Noah Hanifin, he has looked physically capable of competing at the NHL level in terms of size/strength and the fast pace of the game. I would characterize his room for improvement defensively/without the puck as normal for his age and experience level.
Where Jaccob Slavin fits in the mix short-term
Things are subject to change quickly as these young players gain experience and grow. Brett Pesce’s confidence has to be through the roof right now which is a great foundation for continuing to add more layers to his game. Noah Hanifin is suddenly 18 games deep in his NHL time and will continue to improve. But of the 3, I think that Jaccob Slavin might be the closest to becoming an NHL defenseman who can push pace, attack and generate scoring chances from the back end. A strange combination of how much/how soon he starts to do this, how solid he is defensively and the rosters numbers game will all play into whether he continues to do this at the NHL level or possibly sees more time in Charlotte after Murphy returns from injury.
But this is the skill set that drives offense and success in today’s NHL, and it also what the Canes need to get from their young blue to become elite and not just serviceable.
Whether Jaccob Slavin plays himself into an all season NHL slot or returns to Charlotte, my initial impression of his play has been very positive.
For right now, I am enjoying watching his every shift with an equal eye for “Is he solid enough defensively?” and “Just how NHL ready is his skating/creating upside?”