For anyone catching up, a menu of previous player (and also coaching and GM) report cards can be found at the bottom of the article.
Noah Hanifin’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
Noah Hanifin was drafted with the fifth overall selection in the 2015 NHL draft and then jumped straight into the NHL as a 19-year old with only one season of NCAA experience. The jump was a sizable one, and the range of possible outcomes was just as big, ranging from an Aaron Ekblad-level miracle to a clear indication that some time in the AHL was a better starting point.
Noah Hanifin landed in the middle of the two extremes for his rookie season in 2015-16. He started at the NHL level but in a somewhat limited role as a third pairing defenseman who was sheltered to some degree. He looked physically ready with his already top-end skating ability but clearly had work to do in terms of decision-making and positioning at NHL speed and other details.
When I net out Hanifin’s rookie season in 2015-16, I would say that he was not an Aaron Ekblad-like instant winner, but he showed enough to emerge with every bit of the upside that made him the fifth overall pick still intact. He looked fine physically against NHL-level competition and proved to be just as good as advertised as a skater but had a ways to go in terms of the all-important defensive details. His offense as measured by 4 goals and 18 assists in 78 games with a reasonably healthy helping of power play ice time also left room for gains offensively going forward.
Noah Hanifin’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
The hope entering the 2016-17 season for Noah Hanifin was first and foremost that he would take significant steps upward toward his high-end potential.
He started the 2016-17 season in the same third pairing slot that he exited the previous season but with a new cast of characters on his right side. When Ryan Murphy was felled by an injury and preseason, newcomers Jakub Nakladal and Klas Dahlbeck stepped into the mix. Neither seemed to find chemistry with Hanifin, and both Noah Hanifin and the third pairing in total got off to a slow start. At that point, the position next to Hanifin basically became a revolving door. The situation that came closest to lasting long-term was a decent run of Hanifin/Tennyson after Matt Tennyson was recalled from the AHL. But even that was short-lived, and the first three-fourths of the season saw Hanifin play with Nakladal, Dahlbeck, Murphy and Tennyson often only for short stretches until something else was tried.
No doubt the lack of stability and oftentimes sub-par play next to him probably impacted Hanifin, but also noticeable was a continuation of the occasional defensive lapses and turnovers that were sprinkled throughout his rookie year. After a summer off to process his rookie season, I would not say that Hanifin looked significantly (or maybe even at all) better in his second season. That track continued through three-fourths of the season. In a season without much for highs, Hanifin seemed to bottom out in February with a run of games in which Hanifin and his defense partner were losing on a regular basis. Hanifin was a minus in 8 of 10 games (with one plus game and one even game) in February and trending in the wrong direction as the trade deadline approached.
More out of desperation or at least trying to shake things up, I suggested in a couple places (including this Daily Cup of Joe article in early February) that just maybe a bigger challenge in the top 4 could jolt Hanifin into a higher gear. That is exactly what happened after Ron Hainsey was traded. Hanifin was bumped up into the top 4 playing primarily with Brett Pesce but also a reasonable mix of Justin Faulk. Hanifin responded to the challenge. In watching him closely, Hanifin’s play improved seemingly because of the boost gained from more responsibility and pressure. After being a minus 9 in 10 games in February, Hanifin was a positive player for the month for only the second time in his young career in March, and he also set a monthly career high in points with 9 partly due to the volume of games on the schedule.
Coming out of a strong March, I felt like something positive had been salvaged out of a season of treading water at best prior to that. Hanifin finished the 2016-17 season with 4 goals and 18 assists in 79 games while averaging 17:54 of ice time.
Grading Noah Hanifin
Graded as: Third pairing defenseman, ideally making strides toward being top 4-capable over the course of the season.
Grade: B-. Assigning a grade for Noah Hanifin’s 2016-17 season is partially a function of what one grades. If one simply looks at the objective of ending the season closer to being a top 4 defenseman and ignores the process to get there, Hanifin’s grade could be as high a B+. He was playing in a top 4 role at the end of the season, and though he regressed a bit in April, he generally met the objective after the trade deadline.
If you instead break Hanifin’s season into sections, I would give him a C+ for the first three-fourths of the season that saw his development stagnate, but a B+ for the last quarter of the season.
I will stick with the precedent of grading players on the totality of their season and give Hanifin a weighted average of his C+ and B+ for a B- in total. Important to note is the possibility that a combination of a better partner and a bigger challenge was all that was needed for 80 games of B+ or better.
Looking forward to 2017-18
I think the 2017-18 season could be (Tripp Tracy word) pivotal for Noah Hanifin. As the Hurricanes have learned with Ryan Murphy, at some point young players need to leap across the bridge from potential to performance. Now with two full seasons under his belt and having seen two other 2015 drafted defenseman (Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov) at least temporarily pass him development-wise, I think the time could be now for Hanifin. I expect that Ron Francis will bring in one more capable veteran defenseman, but Noah Hanifin will be given every opportunity to win the #4 defense slot and bump the veteran to the third pairing. Hanifin proved capable of filling that role for a reasonable run of hockey. Is he ready to do it permanently?
What say you Canes fans?
To what degree do you think Hanifin’s choppy 2016-17 season was a function of his constantly changing and generally sub-par partners?
Based on his strong final quarter of the 2016-17 season, do you you think Noah Hanifin is ready to rise into and stay in the Hurricanes’ top 4 on defense? Or will he see additional time in the bottom pairing?
What is your prediction for Noah Hanifin’s 2017-18 season?
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