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Draft Discussion, Volume Two: Hanifin Versus Provorov

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It's not easy to choose between the two top-rated defensive players in this draft

Ivan Provorov in action
Ivan Provorov in action
Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

After selecting the second highest rated defenseman in last year's entry draft, Haydn Fleury, could the Carolina Hurricanes go for another defenseman with the fifth overall pick this year?

Of course, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are going to be selected one and two later this month.  Next on several experts' draft sheets is defenseman Noah Hanifin, who is rated as the third best prospect overall by many.  But sometimes defensemen drop unexpectedly in drafts, especially when there are high end offensive talents available.

The OHL scoring champion, Dylan Strome could go in the top five as could Mitch Marner, the dynamic skater who placed right behind Strome in the scoring race.  Even big bruiser Lawson Crouse is listed in the top 5 on some charts, (ISS).

In 2010, defensemen Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley were listed in everyone's top 10, but somehow fell to 12 and 13 respectively.  It's really hard to determine what will happen on draft day because scouts certainly have varying opinions about players, just like fans do.

Another factor to keep in mind regarding Carolina is that while the Canes need help on defense, they also certainly need help on offense.  The club has used two of their last three first round picks on defensemen, (Ryan Murphy in 2011 and Fleury in 2014, they traded their first round pick in 2012.)  Would they make it three of their last four?

The club also recently acquired the Kings second round pick in 2014, Roland McKeown, in the Andrej Sekera trade, yet another defenseman.  Perhaps they should concentrate on offense with this first round pick, even if a top level blueliner is available?

Whether to draft "offense or defense" is a discussion we will have here a different day but Noah Hanifin is not the only highly touted defenseman in the draft to be considered at number five.  Ivan Provorov is moving up fast on many pundit lists and by some accounts, could be more "NHL ready" than Hanifin.

First, let's take a closer look at Hanifin.

Listed at about 6'2 and 200, the youngster entered Boston College a year earlier than most players and initially as a 17-year-old, played against older competition all season.  He was listed as the second youngest player in school history.

Skating is his strong suit and he is extremely mobile for his size.

As mentioned previously, many scouts have him listed as the third best player in the draft and most have him as the best defenseman available.

Here are a couple of quotes:

Mike Morreale - NHL.com (3rd)

"The left-shot defender had five goals, 23 points and 52 blocked shots in 37 games as a freshman with the Eagles. Scouts love his offensive ability but his defensive game is a bit underrated. Hanifin's ability to excel in pressure situations and on the transition is a strength."

Dan Marr - Director of Central Scouting - (3rd)

"Everybody looks at him and says he’s a gifted offensive player, and he is, but what makes him so special is his transition game. He ‘gets it’ – that you have to play defense first and the offense will follow".

Steve Kournianos - The Draft Analysis - (3rd)

With all the talk about Connor Mcdavid and Jack Eichel, Hanifin, much like Pronger in 1993, is viewed as some sort of consolation prize. Regardless of how McDavid’s or Eichel’s respective careers turn out, history should be very kind to Hanifin,  who some consider the best draft eligible American-trained defenseman in decades. Hanifin is an outstanding two-way defenseman. Forget about how was supposed to be a senior in high school rather than patrolling a blue line against grown men. Forget about how in true Jerry York fashion, Hanifin was held back in a lesser role for half a season. Lastly, forget about how Boston College had its lowest offensive output since before the Great Depression (the American one, not the Harold Ballard one). When you look at Hanifin from a purely individual standpoint, he’s top notch in so many areas. He is a tremendous skater forward and back, and possesses a long reach. This makes him difficult to beat one-on-one or in odd-man situations. Thus, his gap control is impeccable for anyone, let alone a teenager, and rarely does he resort to hooks and grabs. What makes him dangerous is when he takes these shutdown abilities and combines it with his superior IQ; at the blink of an eye, he’s stripped the puck clean and transitions the other way. Hanifin is a hard and accurate passer, especially across/up the ice,  but he is also adept at beating pressure with a simple chip or ladle. He’s got great hands for a guy his size, specifically on the power play when he’s receiving hard cross-ice passes on either his backhand or forehand. He has an average shot, but it’s accurate and keeps it low. From a physical standpoint, Hanifin is big, but his physical play is part of a process rather than a reaction. He has delivered big hits and can clear the crease, but not at the cost of positioning.

Now let's look at Provorov.

Listed slightly smaller, at 6'0 and 200, he is perhaps a more physical player than Hanifin and seems more solidly built.  He had 15 goals and 61 points in 60 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings and was improving as the season went on.  He continued scoring a point per game through most of the playoffs.

Some quotes regarding his play:

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com - (8th)

"The Russian-born defenseman had an outstanding first North American season, leading all WHL rookies in scoring and finishing fourth among WHL defensemen."

(Note:  this player has been playing in North America previously)

Steve Kournianos - The Draft Analysis - 5th

Provorov is an outstanding two-way defenseman known more for his ability to nip scoring chances in the bud at an elite level. He’s a very good skater who can change the pace of a game; smooth, deceptively quick and very good at changing gears to catch opponents flat footed. He’s listed at 6’0, but at 200 pounds, he maintains a low center of gravity which makes him very difficult to establish position on. Provorov also uses a very long stick which helps him execute timely poke checks. Couple his reach with his elite positioning, and you have one of the best amateur defensemen at limiting opposing puck handlers with time and space. He is able to play his man close enough to allow him to blanket the puck carrier, even if they stop on a dime and reverse the direction of the puck. He’s the blueline equivalent of Guy Carbonneau; a modern-day permanent shadow. What exacerbates the situation for opponents is how quickly he can transition the other way. Provorov has a very hard and accurate breakout pass and can find the open man in and around traffic. He’s a workhorse who can log a lot of minutes and recover quickly from a long shift, which is important since he is a critical piece to running Kelowna’s top special teams units. He also possesses a very heavy shot which he can deliver with velocity either standing still or while stepping into it. A complete player who has the desire and competitiveness to win while setting a good example with skill, dedication and a keen interest in improving himself.

Again, most place Hanifin above Provorov on their charts, but there are at least a couple of contrary opinions about that.

This is from Shawn Reznik - The Hockey Writers

I have seen Hanifin play a good amount this season between Boston College and the World Juniors. Depending if BC makes their typical NCAA tournament run this year, we may see more of Hanifin in the Frozen Four next month. However, I don’t think he’s the best defensemen in the draft like many are claiming. A prominent two-way defenseman, Hanifin is one of the top defenders, but it’s not as clear cut as you may be led to believe. That isn’t a knock on Hanifin. He’s going to be a great defensemen in this league based on what he brings to the table, but I haven’t seen that X-factor consistently from him that sets him apart from defensemen like Zach Werenski or Ivan Provorov.

Then this is what Craig Button had to say from TSN

The NHL Central Scouting Service has Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin ranked third among North American skaters, behind only McDavid and Eichel. But Hanifin is No. 12 on my list. He's a fantastic skater, but I'm not yet convinced he will make an impact in the NHL worthy of investing such a high pick.

Ivan Provorov is my highest ranked defenceman and No. 5 overall. His game is both complete and thorough. He lacks in nothing and excels in all aspects and there's no challenge in the game that overwhelms him and he can anchor a blue line for years to come.

Now before you laugh at Button and claim that he is just being a "rabble-rouser", take a look at what he had to say last year.

Button was the only pundit listed out of many of the "big boys" who predicted that Fleury would go as high as number 7.  He also predicted that the Canes would choose Fleury in his final 2014 mock draft.

Many had the defenseman ranked at 10 or later.

One thing the Hurricanes scouting staff has shown in the past is that they do not necessarily take the most popular player with any particular selection, they march to the beat of their own drummers and make the pick that suits them.

Will they agree with Button and his assessment again or with the majority in this case?

By the way, in case you missed it the boys at Section 328 scored an interview with Hanifin on their latest podcast.

For even more information about the highly touted blueliner, check out the interview and scouting report about him at LeafsHub.

For more info about Provorov including an interview,  check out the linked article by Mike Morreale.