Carolina Hurricanes’ Noah Hanifin: Our Future Ristolainen


We check back in on Hanifin almost halfway through his second season to see how his play has been.

Earlier this season I wrote a piece about how Hanifin’s progress seemed off track given his high draft status.  In that piece, I noted several caveats that might affect things such as his youth and the small number of games in his sample.  Especially considering the stats used just from the beginning of the season.  So I decided to return to the issue and see if things had changed for Carolina Hurricanes number 5 draft pick.  Unfortunately for Canes, and their fans, Hanifin play is trending in entirely the wrong direction.

Analyzing Hanifin’s Play

The reasons I wanted to revisit Noah Hanifin is twofold.  One is he projects to be a major part of the Hurricanes’ future plans.  Two is because at the beginning of December I felt Hanifin improved his play quite considerably.  He seemed surer of himself and his play, once paired with Matt Tennyson, solidified.  But hockey can easily confuse the eye, and I wanted to reaffirm my assessment with some facts.

The first two stats I compiled were his Shot Differential (How many shots created when he’s on-ice versus how many given up) and his Expected Goal Differential to look at shot quality.  I used a rolling 10-day average in all these graphs to smooth it out and suppress the effects of outliers.  Look at his shot differentials:

He started out the season all right and then really took a jump to start December which happens to coincide with when I noted the improvement in his play after.  So yes Hanifin definitely had an uptick around that time.  But ever since his shot metrics took a nose dive into the bad territory.  But that just measures raw shots.  Expected Goals tries to factor in the quality of each shot taken and given while on the ice so what does it say:

Oh man, that’s awful.  That graph shows that consistently the opponents are getting better quality shots against Noah Hanifin than he is helping create.  For someone labeled an offensive defenseman that is a really bad look to have.

Hanifin versus the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes

Ok so Hanifin doesn’t look so good in the graphs above, but how does he look compared to the rest of the team?  Maybe there are some other factors that could explain his poor showings like bad partners or the team around him not being good.  That’s why I decided to compare his Shots For % and his Expected Goals % to the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes when Hanifin is not on the ice.  We’ll start first with the Shots For %.  I listed Shots For as Corsi in the graph through force of habit.  Corsi=Shots and I use them interchangeably.  I explained why in another one of my articles if you are interested in my reasoning.  So if you see Corsi just think Shots and vice versa at least when reading my work.  I can’t speak for others:

Other than that little stretch to start December, Hanifin has consistently performed worse than the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes in Shots For %.  In fact, I don’t think it would be illogical to say that since Hanifin’s numbers are so poor he could be part of the reason the team trends downward in Shots For % recently.  How about Expected Goals %:

Yeah, that’s even worse.  Again for a supposed offensive defenseman to be on the ice for more goals for than you create is not a good position to be in.  And it’s not like Hanifin is hovering around 50% in either of these graphs.  He has sunk well below the break-even mark and is approaching the territory of just being plain bad.

Related Story: Slavin and Pesce a Top D-Pair in the NHL

And I can hear people already saying as I write this, “B, B, B, But he’s only 19!”  Well, you know what?  Zach Werenski is nineteen and Brandon Carlo just turned twenty in November.  Both were taken with lower picks (Carlo in the second round even), and so far this year they are playing light years ahead of Noah Hanifin and doing so while logging more minutes.  Sure there is still time for him to improve, but to write off his poor play just because of age is a flimsy argument.  Especially with more and more young players jumping into the NHL ready to play straight out of the draft.

But why the Rasmus Ristolainen comparison?

Mainly because like Ristolainen, Hanifin does seem able to put points on the board.  He scored 22 last year and this year he is on pace for 27.  These numbers, given his small Time On Ice, translate into great rate metrics.  He cannot sustain those numbers with his shot rates and it’s only a matter of time before they drop.

Next: Matt Duchene Trade Possibilities

I fear this scenario most of all; the Carolina Hurricanes blinded by the points believe Hanifin to be better than he actually is.  Which will lead to giving Hanifin a larger contract than he deserves just like Buffalo did with Ristolainen.  With Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin setting the bar, this most likely won’t happen, but I thought the Ristolainen contract wouldn’t happen either.  Maybe something clicks soon and Hanifin figures it out and turns into the defenseman everybody thought he would be.  I sure hope so because if Hanifin keeps following these trends the same criticisms being leveled at Elias Lindholm today will be the criticisms said about him.