After three seasons in Carolina, Noah Hanifin joined the Calgary Flames prior to the 2018-19 season. He had a solid, if somewhat uneven, first year in Alberta.
2018-19 season summary
As general manager, Brad Treliving has brought in a new high-end defender three times. Twice – Dougie Hamilton and Travis Hamonic – the newcomer has faced challenges in their first season. Hanifin was the exception, as he had a pretty solid first campaign with the Flames.
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Hanifin played a ton in 2018-19. He was healthy for the entire season and played in every game, aside from a pair of healthy scratches at the end of the season after the Flames had their playoff positioning sewn up. He was second on the team in even strength ice time and third on the team in overall ice time.
The youngster was effectively joined at the hip with Hamonic for the entire season. Aside from some in-game adjustments where Hamonic was swapped with Rasmus Andersson, Hamonic was Hanifin’s defensive chaperone for the campaign. The pair received secondary deployments – Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie got tougher opponents and more defensive zone starts, while the third pairing were sheltered more significantly due to both of them being rookies at any given time.
If you watch the games or look at the numbers, it’s obvious that there’s some wildness in Hanifin’s game that will need to be smoothed out. He led the Flames in high danger scoring chances allowed, and a good deal of that was due to getting caught pinching from the point and leaving Hamonic to defend odd-man rushes by his lonesome.
Overall, Hanifin was a tale of two sides of his game. Offensively, he was dynamite: he was second or third in virtually every offensive rate statistic – shots, attempts, scoring chances and high danger chances – but dead last among regular blueliners in the shot suppression rates. He’ll obviously need to work on that aspect of his game, but that’s precisely why he plays with Hamonic and why the veteran is so valuable as his partner.
Compared to last season
Compared to his time in Carolina, Hanifin was given less frequent offensive zone starts and slightly tougher opposition. He was also used a lot more: he had a big, big jump in five on five ice time. He had some growing pains, though – his offensive rates were pretty much the same, but he had a small drop in Corsi For percentage and his shot suppression numbers eroded fairly significantly.
He had a good offensive season and was a big part of the Flames’ scoring outburst, but his defensive game needs work.
What about next season?
By the standards of the Flames and the wider NHL, Hanifin still has a ton of developmental runway left. He’ll be just 22 years old to begin the 2019-20 season and entering the second year of a six year deal that pays him $4.95 million annually. Barring any big roster changes, he’ll spend another season alongside Hamonic and working on his two-way game.
Long-term, the dueling succession plans to take over for Giordano as the top left side defender are likely between Hanifin and Juuso Valimaki. Both of them are very promising offensive players, but whoever figures out the defensive side of the game likely becomes the captain’s heir apparent. it’ll be fascinating to see how the two players handle their development within that context.
2018-19 player evaluations
#4 Rasmus Andersson | #5 Mark Giordano | #7 TJ Brodie | #8 Juuso Valimaki | #10 Derek Ryan | #11 Mikael Backlund | #13 Johnny Gaudreau | #18 James Neal | #19 Matthew Tkachuk | #21 Garnet Hathaway | #23 Sean Monahan | #24 Travis Hamonic | #27 Austin Czarnik | #28 Elias Lindholm | #33 David Rittich| #41 Mike Smith