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Systems Analyst: All-Star Assists

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Noah Hanifin put a rough game in Pittsburgh behind him to show up in a big way against Montreal.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

As the Carolina Hurricanes head into the NHL All-Star break, their young standout on the blue line will head to Tampa in the midst of his strongest offensive season to date.

Noah Hanifin’s ability to contribute offensively is no surprise, but his development has clearly taken another step forward this season. Now with 24 points in just 49 games, Hanifin fueled Carolina’s wild 6-5 victory in Montreal with a three-assist showing on his birthday.

His first helper started as a shot that ended up being tapped in by Jeff Skinner, who started the play by carrying the puck deep.

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Skinner’s skating ability is on full display here. He won’t shock anyone with his strength, but he remains a mammoth to knock off the puck, as seen here.

Notice how he keeps his skates in a 180-degree position to brace for the impact from Jakub Jerabek, then quickly shifts as he tries to poke the puck through Jerabek’s skates, but goes straight back to the impact-ready position when the move doesn’t work. It’s no flashy spin-o-rama, but it’s a subtle move to aid stability that many players may not be able to pull off.

Another key here is Derek Ryan’s role as second-man in. His quick action to support Skinner makes the difference in this play; without him, the play likely becomes a turnover.

Ryan then picks up the puck and finds a trailing Hanifin, whose shot squeaks through the Montreal defense for Skinner to poke home.

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Here’s where Hanifin’s offensive mindset comes in handy. He comes below the tops of the circles to act as a passing option, and take a look at his positioning — his stick is already in a shooting position, and despite the pass being outside his wheelhouse, he still gets the puck to the net in a hurry. Holding on to it for too long would have give Montreal ample opportunity to block the shooting and passing lanes.

Hanifin may not have been planning on passing here, but his offensive readiness still created a goal for the Canes.

Later in the game, Hanifin took an even more active role in Carolina’s offense, driving a 2-on-1 play into Montreal’s zone.

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Again, Hanifin is ready to jump ahead into the play with Carolina’s forwards covering back. As Ryan makes his initial pass, Hanifin is already motoring ahead to be in position for Lee Stempniak to find him with an outlet feed. More traditional defensemen may not have been as quick to jump ahead, but the kind of willingness to take the risk to go ahead is what makes players like Hanifin special.

As he carries ahead, Hanifin hits a roadblock. Montreal now has two players back, and the passing lane begins to disappear.

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A quick chip pass to Skinner just over the blue line would do the trick, but Hanifin holds on. He could now try to beat Jerabek low, or stop at the hashmarks and find the trailing Ryan.

Hanifin goes with option A, showing off his slick hands to feed a centering pass to Skinner.

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It won’t end up on highlight reels, but Hanifin’s stickhandling deserves praise here. To keep the puck away from his body and, by default, Montreal’s defenseman, he buys himself a few seconds and forces Jerabek to make the first move and open a passing lane to the crease. Alex Galchenyuk has Skinner covered, but Ryan again wisely follows in support, and pots the rebound.

As Hanifin continues his development, driving plays like these will be crucial to his success and his confidence. He is actively learning the right times to jump ahead, and the future continues to be bright as ever for Carolina’s young #5.