For many disgruntled fans of the Oilers and other teams who will likely finish at the bottom of the NHL basement, the only thing left to look forward to is the 2015 NHL entry draft next June. So far, the majority of draft-oriented discussions have centred around Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, and which one will be the respective No. 1 and No. 2. Most hockey pundits are likely to tout McDavid to go first overall, furthering the drought that has seen no NCAA player selected first since the St. Louis Blues took Erik Johnson back in 2006. Inspite of all the hype surrounding Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid, its about time we focused our attention on Mr. No. 3, another American, NCAA defensemen; Noah Hanifin.
Predicted to go third overall, Noah Hanifin finds himself the odd man out of numerous conversations pertaining to the draft. Like a competition at the Olympics, the crowd only likes to remember whoever finishes first or second, while the athlete in third place fades into obscurity. But Hanifin is a prodigy in his own right. At 17, the young defenceman fast tracked his high school graduation to take on the challenge of jumping into college hockey a year early, committing to play for the renowned Boston College Eagles lead by the equally renowned coach Jerry York, who boasts the honour of being the winningest coach in NCAA hockey history.
So far in his young college career, Hanifin has four goals and 20 points in 32 games with a Boston College team that began the season plagued with anemic offence, but is now well on its way to having another prolific year. Few aspects can be factored in to explain Boston College’s drop in goal production. The Eagles no longer have services of the explosive Johnny Gaudreau, whose jaw-dropping 80 points in 40 games rendered him a constant nightmare for opposing teams on a nightly basis. Also no longer with Boston College, are Gaudreau’s linemates, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes, who both have graduated and are now facing the challenges of hockey at the professional level. However, unlike these three departed stars, Hanifin is a defenseman, which means his talent will not be solely evaluated on offensive prowess. In his freshman year at Boston College, scouts have already made note of Hanifin’s high on-ice IQ, smooth skating ability and his mature decision-making with the puck; traits that are needed for any defenseman to survive and thrive in today’s NHL. These early signs have lead many hockey analysts such as Bob Mckenzie to dub Hanifin as the next Scott Niedermayer.
Perhaps what has allowed Hanifin to elude the attention of numerous hockey fans and analysts is their lack of familiarity with his play. While he went through the prestigious United States Under-17 and Under-18 program like Eichel, who now plays for the rival Boston University Terriers, Hanifin only suited up for a total of 32 games during his entire tenure in Ann Arbor. But when one digs further into native of Norwood, MA’s young career, one will find plenty of promise in a history who’s most exciting chapters have yet to be written. At the Under-18 tournament during the past year, Hanifin took over the competition by leading all American defensemen in scoring, along with helping the United States capture gold. This past December, Hanifin was also a member of the Under-20 squad which participated in the World Junior Championships. Although he initially struggled competing against some of the bigger and stronger 18-19 year old players, the young college freshmen managed to hold his ground, finishing the tournament with two assists in five games, along with a plus 3 rating. While this might not have been enough to steal the hype away from Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid, the past has shown that stardom or obscurity at the college/junior level is not indicative of success at the pro-level. As the youngest player to ever suit up for Boston College, what will determine whether Hanifin is the player he is touted to be, will be the growth he exhibits from now until the day he steps onto the ice for his first NHL game.
Photography courtesy of Boston College Athletics.