Noah Hanifin’s play so far this year was subpar, but since being paired with Brett Pesce the former fifth overall pick has started to show signs of improvement
The 2017 season has not been a pretty one for Noah Hanifin. Displaying none of the promise from last year, the sophomore looked lost out on the ice. He saw his ice time drop as Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin grew more into their role as the top pair. Hanifin’s role morphed into a power play specialist who faced the most sheltered quality of competition at 5v5. Although the Carolina Hurricanes coaches and front office still praised Hanifin, things were still not as they should be the first three-quarters of the season.
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So like my last article I wrote about the Boston native, the eye test recently has shown an improved player. The defensive mistakes are down and Hanifin’s confidence in his skating and passing ability has led him to use his natural talents to escape from danger more often. More often that is than his normal reaction, a costly turnover for a goal.
I’ve been a prescription glasses wearer since the third grade so I trust my eyes about as much as I trust my one-year-old not to completely destroy anything she gets her hands on. Let’s see if the stats finally match up with the eye test for Hanifin.
Hanifin’s Stats, like the Leafs, are Actually Good
Since the trade of Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Noah Hanifin moved up the depth chart to pair with Brett Pesce. The Carolina Hurricanes traded Ron Hainsey on February 22nd so I broke down Hanifin’s stats into before and after the Hainsey trade in the table below. All data is from Corsica
|Before Hainsey Trade
|After Hainsey Trade
Noah Hanifin’s play in every single category has improved. Not only has there been an improvement, it is a dramatic improvement. These are the stats that Carolina fans should expect from a number five overall draft pick.
So what is behind these increases? Has something finally clicked for the twenty-year-old? Maybe, but the correct answer is most likely the simplest one: his pairing with Brett Pesce. Instead of being paired with a random partner every night, Hanifin now has some stability in his linemate.
Statistically, Brett Pesce is the best defenseman on the Carolina Hurricanes. You could pair Brett Pesce with a safety cone and people would rave about the cone’s ability to shutdown players. And it’s no different with Noah Hanifin. Still, any improvement from such a high valued asset like Hanifin is a good sign for the franchise even if it’s difficult to accurately put a finger on the source of the improvement.
Still, any improvement from such a high valued asset like Hanifin is a good sign for the franchise even if it’s difficult to accurately put a finger on the source of the improvement. One can’t completely rule out that it is a nice blend of player improvement and better linemates that is behind Hanifin’s improvement with the data on hand.
Is the Improvement Here to Stay?
This isn’t the first time this season that Noah Hanifin has put together a string of well-played games, only to revert into a possession black hole. Thirteen games is a very small sample size to make any kind of definitive judgment. Hanifin’s play with Pesce could be a good sign that maybe things are changing, though. Barring any major injuries, next year’s top four should mirror the team’s current defensive setup and there will be more data on Hanifin with more minutes and a higher QoT.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Hanifin continues this play the rest of the season. As teams lock up playoff spots more and more of them will see the Hurricanes as a night off. The real test will come at the start of next year. If Hanifin can’t start improving some of his career averages by his third year it may be time for the Carolina Hurricanes to start coming up with a plan B.