A lot has been made about the supposed struggles of former fifth overall pick Noah Hanifin in the early going of this season.
After a rough start to his season in the first two periods of Carolina’s opening night game against the Minnesota Wild, Hanifin buried a game-tying goal off of a jaw-dropping feed from winger Sebastian Aho.
That goal was seemingly wiped from the memory of the fans and pundits who discussed the game following it, and who can blame them? Given Victor Rask’s eventual go-ahead goal coupled with an enthralling shootout victory, it makes sense that the tying goal would become an afterthought.
But what didn’t seem to slip from people’s memories was the couple of misplays that the pairing of Hanifin and Brett Pesce, which has never been effective, had in the game’s first two periods.
The couple of goals against that Hanifin was on the ice for sparked a narrative that has snowballed into the idea that he’s behind the developmental curve and not living up to his potential.
On the surface level, it make sense. At 5-on-5 play, Hanifin has been on the ice for 10 goals for and 11 goals against. So in terms of goals, which are the plays that stick in the memory of the viewers the most, Hanifin has fared slightly below average.
However, after just a little bit of digging beyond surface level, bigger-picture numbers paint a vastly different picture of Hanifin’s season so far.
Offensively, chances flow much better when Hanifin is on the ice. His on-ice xGF/60 of 2.94 is tops among Carolina defenders. His CF/60 of 78.43 also paces the group.
If you’ve watched Hanifin’s game closely throughout October and into November, this should come as no surprise. He’s by far this team’s best defenseman with the puck on his stick through the neutral zone, and that includes Slavin and Faulk, who are good-to-great in their own rights.
One play I’ve noticed the Hurricanes run before this year, which may be a set piece and may just be a coincidence, takes place when Faulk has some time and is carrying the puck up the right side of the defensive zone to exit. Sometimes he’ll keep it himself, sometimes he’ll look to spring a forward, but sometimes he does a sort of diagonal drop pass to Hanifin, who will usually have curled back a bit to generate some momentum for himself.
This momentum Hanifin generates is often very effective at giving him the speed to zoom past defenders in the neutral zone and create an entry into the offensive zone very quickly. That’s obviously helpful when it comes to helping with the generation of offensive opportunities, and it’s no doubt one of the reasons why Hanifin leads the Canes’ defense in terms of on-ice shot generation.
Hanifin’s all-around game has been on point this year as well. His corsi for percentage of 60.2% is once again tops amongst Carolina’s defense and also good for the league lead among the 128 defenders who have skated in at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5 play.
Further, his expected goals share of 56.22% also leads the team, and puts him 16th in the league out of those same 128 defensemen.
Through 15 games this year, Hanifin’s all-around game has shown tremendous growth. As long as his process stays as good as it has been so far this year, the results are sure to follow. That will mean more pucks in the back of the opposition’s net and less in Carolina’s while Hanifin’s on the ice. And when that starts to be the case, you can bet that the perception of the 20-year-old’s play will improve with his luck.
Now is not the time to panic, and Ron Francis’s highest draft pick to date is far from a bust.
All statistics courtesy of Corsica.hockey unless otherwise noted.