Calgary Flames blueliner Noah Hanifin has long been considered a promising young defender. He broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old and has long been a really solid, albeit somewhat unspectacular, defender. He’s been a solid hand, a reliable second pairing guy, but up until this season he hasn’t shown much more than that.
Stepping into Mark Giordano’s spot on the left side of the top pairing, Hanifin had his best season as a pro – by far – in 2021-22.
Writer Cyril Connolly once declared, “”Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.” For much of his youth, Hanifin was renowned as a promising young player. A Boston kid, he came up through New England’s prep school leagues, then headed to Ann Arbor to spend a season with the famed U.S. National Development Program.
He played his draft year (2014-15) with Boston College and earned strong reviews from scouts and journalists. Michael Smith, writing for the Carolina Hurricanes’ official site, presented this assessment of Hanifin’s game prior to the draft:
Hanifin, who says he patterns his game after the Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty, possesses the qualities that are going to allow him to be a two-way, defensive stud in the NHL. He’s big, he’s composed and positionally sound and he has the poise and hockey sense to move the puck effectively in transition.
Hanifin went fifth overall to Carolina at the 2015 NHL Draft, then immediately signed his entry-level deal and went pro. He spent three seasons with the ‘Canes, missing just five games over that span and establishing himself as a rock-solid second pairing defender and a reliable 30-ish point player in his final two seasons.
Stuck at a contract impasse with the Hurricanes in the summer of 2018, he was traded to the Flames at the 2018 NHL Draft (along with Elias Lindholm) in a trade that sent Dougie Hamilton (and Adam Fox’s rights) to Carolina. Hanifin slotted in on the second pairing, where he stayed for three seasons, playing primarily with Travis Hamonic (2018-19), Rasmus Andersson (2019-20) and Chris Tanev (2020-21).
Hanifin showed immense promise on the second pairing, but what kept him there was that his offensive looks were undercut with defensive miscues – he seemed to make mistakes at the wrong time which made it a bit tougher to trust him against the tippity-top guys on the other team. But his season playing with Tanev saw him progress quite a bit, as he and Tanev were used in more of a shutdown role while Andersson and Giordano were used in more offensive situations.
When Giordano was claimed in the expansion draft by Seattle, Hanifin became the team’s top left side defender by default. A season later, it’s a spot that you probably can’t wrest away from him, because he was fantastic.
Hanifin played a ton of hockey. He was top pairing with Andersson, and the coaching staff used that pair and Oliver Kylington and Tanev (the second pair) against top opposition, often swapping deployments mid-game to maximize offensive chances for each pairing. Hanifin also served as the point man for the second power play unit and was used with Andersson as the secondary penalty killing pairing.
Hanifin was trusted with key situations and he played really well. He made occasional miscues, but he seemed to bring the defensive lessons learned alongside Tanev the prior season with him to the top pairing. Because his defensive play was better, it resulted in increase offensive zone time and scoring opportunities. He took advantage of those chances, racking up a career high 48 points in 81 games.
Because Hanifin was able to play so well and so consistently on the top pairing, it allowed the Flames to shelter Nikita Zadorov and give Kylington favourable deployments. In short: Hanifin was superb, and it helped enable the rest of the blueline to have strong years, too.
Hanifin turned 25 in January and has two seasons left on his current deal, which carries a $4.95 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season – he’ll be eligible to be an unrestricted free agent. It’s safe to say that Hanifin will get himself a hefty raise.
How big a raise depends on whether this past season was an aberration, or the emergence of the “real” Hanifin. After being considered “promising” for so long, has Hanifin finally grown into that promise, or was 2021-22 just a one-off good year?
Needless to say: the Flames would be extremely happy if this past season’s Hanifin is a sign of how good he’ll be over the next two seasons (and beyond).
2021-22 Flames player evaluations
Johnny Gaudreau | Calle Jarnkrok | Matthew Tkachuk | Trevor Lewis | Jacob Markstrom | Dillon Dube | Elias Lindholm | Chris Tanev | Adam Ruzicka | Milan Lucic | Andrew Mangiapane | Tyler Toffoli | Dan Vladar | Rasmus Andersson | Brett Ritchie | Oliver Kylington
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