Noah Hanifin’s commitment to being a more productive offensive player this season may have landed him in his first NHL All-Star Game.
The defenseman, in his third season with the Carolina Hurricanes, was selected Wednesday to be the team’s representative at the 2018 All-Star Weekend, set Jan. 27-28 in Tampa, Fla. Hanifin will compete for the Metropolitan Division in the three-on-three All-Star tournament on Jan. 28.
Some were guessing forwards Sebastian Aho or Teuvo Teravainen, the Canes’ top point producers, or shutdown defenseman Jaccob Slavin might be chosen from the Canes. Hanifin, 20, will give the Metro team a player who is eighth among NHL defensemen with seven goals and also leads the Canes’ D-men in assists (14) and points (21).
“Coming into this league you have to be reliable defensively first or you’re not going to be too successful, so my first two years I was developing my defensive game,” Hanifin said in a recent interview. “This being my third year, I felt defensively I had developed a lot and started working on my offense, my shot and jumping into the play. It’s an area of my game over the summer I really wanted to improve on, to make sure I’m creating more offense for this team.”
Hanifin had the overtime winner against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 2, scoring in the final seconds of OT for a 3-2 win at PNC Arena. He also had the winning goal Dec. 16 in a 2-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I think my confidence is coming and I’m more comfortable making plays I may not have tried my first two years,” Hanifin said.
Hanifin’s defense still is developing and he has had some rough moments. One came in the third period of Tuesday’s road game against Tampa Bay, when Lightning forward Tyler Johnson beat him to the puck in the Carolina zone, shouldered him to the ice and then beat goalie Cam Ward for the winning goal in a 5-4 Tampa Bay win.
But Hanifin, often paired with Trevor van Riemsdyk this season, has been solid enough in the D-zone. The former first-round draft pick, taken fifth by Carolina in 2015, has added weight and strength and has had a more physical edge to his game.
Hanifin, who played a year at Boston College, is in the third and final year of his entry-level contract with Carolina and said he would like to lock down a long-term deal similar to those given to Slavin (seven years) and defenseman Brett Pesce (six) last summer.
Hanifin changed agents in the summer, signing with CAA Sports headed by Pat Brisson.
“I’m just focusing on contributing to the team and getting better,” Hanifin said. “But I want to be here for a long time. I love this organization and all the guys on this team and I want to be here.
“It will all take care of itself. I’m not too worried about that. It’s about getting this team in the playoffs this year.”