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The Ron Hainsey Trade Could Benefit Carolina’s Young Defensive Core

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The departure of Ron Hainsey could introduce a big opportunity for Carolina’s blue line.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Moving Ron Hainsey opens up a lot of doors for the Carolina Hurricanes going forward, both on and off the ice.

Off the ice, Ron Francis has yet another pick in the top half of the draft to do with as he sees fit - either pick a player he and his staff feels will contribute to the success of the organization going forward, or package it for an existing NHL player that will do the same.

On the ice, we will see a new look on Bill Peters’ blue line.

With the departure of a left-handed top-four defenseman, Noah Hanifin will get his shot in a bigger role. Whether he deserves is or not is a different conversation itself, but regardless, he should get top-four minutes through the rest of the season.

On Friday, the new top four was comprised of Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk on the top pairing, followed by Hanifin and Brett Pesce as the second grouping.

In a small sample size, the results were positive, especially from the Hanifin-Pesce duo. They posted plus-eight and plus-seven shot attempt differentials at even strength, respectively,

In Hanifin’s case, he’s in desperate need of a good stretch of play. This season to date has been a rough one for him as his offensive confidence is seemingly hitting all-time lows and his skating acumen hasn’t been nearly enough to bail him out of his countless defensive errors and poor pinches.

In theory, Pesce seems like the perfect partner for the second-year man out of Boston College. Pesce is Carolina’s most competent defender in his own end with his ability to skate and be in good position. The more Hanifin can learn and read off of a guy like that, the better. I’m under the belief that the offense will come if he can iron out his defense. (More on him later this afternoon.)

The top pairing is a different situation.

Jaccob Slavin has had another fabulous year, serving as Carolina’s number one defenseman in terms of ice time and playing in all situations. He’s joining a three-time all-star in Justin Faulk, who he has played with in short bursts in the past. They play similar games. They both like to get involved offensively, though Faulk has more of a tendency to get involved, and both are reasonably capable in their own end, with Slavin excelling more on a night-to-night basis.

Again, this pairing makes a lot of sense on paper. Faulk and Slavin are a pair of highly talented two-way defenders. One of them excels more offensively and one excels more defensively, but both of these players have more to give. Faulk still has some plaguing defensive problems and Slavin has more offensive potential to tap into at even strength.

Beyond five-on-five play, moving Hainsey gives Justin Faulk a role on the penalty kill. He hasn’t been featured on the kill all year, but through two kills on Friday night, he looked solid and comfortable. Hopefully, his bigger role will help him build some confidence in his own end.

Ryan Murphy also seems poised to get an extended look on the third pairing with Klas Dahlbeck. This could help Carolina for expansion purposes if they do end up wanting to expose Murphy. Beyond that, the former first-round pick gets yet another opportunity to try and show that he’s worthy of a spot in the top-six group of defensemen entering next season. He has his work cut out for him though with guys like Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean right on the cusp of being NHL players.

The bottom pairing played alright in limited looks on Friday. They were both even or better in corsi share, but the hope is that Murphy will find another level with his ability to generate offense. Dahlbeck has been a solid sixth defenseman over the past few weeks, which is a promising development.

I mentioned Fleury above, but now with a defenseman coming out of the fold, it seems more likely that the 2014 seventh overall pick will get a chance at the NHL level before the end of the season. He’s played very well in Charlotte this year as a rookie and with the Checkers on the outside looking in at the playoff hunt in the American league, they may be in a position that they don’t need Fleury quite as desperately down the stretch.

All in all, it’s tough to see a guy like Ron Hainsey go. If there is one word I would use to describe his play here, it would be “solid”. He didn’t make a plethora of mistakes, he was strong in his own end, and he provided a good veteran presence in an oft young locker room. Now he gets his opportunity to compete for a cup, likely putting to an end his 891-game and counting drought of not playing in the playoffs.

As tough as it is to see him leave, the move creates more opportunities for Faulk, Hanifin, and Murphy and Bill Peters now has some new pairings and combinations to look at.

Thursday’s trade should be a sign of things to come. Expect Carolina to continue to sell off some veteran pieces prior to Wednesday’s deadline with guys like Jay McClement, Viktor Stalberg, and Lee Stempniak all being veteran pieces that playoff-bound teams may be interested in. One would assume that, if the price is right, Francis will be willing to deal.