The Carolina Hurricanes’ annual Summerfest had a feel-good start to it Saturday, with something of a surprise.
In his “State of the Hurricanes” discussion for the fans at PNC Arena, general manager Ron Francis announced defenseman Noah Hanifin would be signing his entry-level contract.
Moments later, the Canes’ first-round draft pick appeared and soon had pen in hand. The contract was officially signed, both ending Hanifin’s college career at Boston College and beginning a professional career that he hopes will lead to a spot on the Canes this season.
The deed done, and to much applause, Hanifin then joined Carolina’s other prospects in a scrimmage that had a lively pace, ending the week-long development camp.
“Last night I didn’t have a plan I was signing today,” Hanifin said. “I talked to Mr. Francis this morning and he talked to my agent and my parents. I’m ready to make the step. I’m really excited to get this done and focus on the future.”
The contract will pay Hanifin $832,500 on the NHL level or $70,000 on the American Hockey League level through the 2017-18 season. He also receives a signing bonus of $277,500.
As the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Hanifin could quickly step into the Canes’ lineup. At 6 feet 3 and 206 pounds, the Boston native has good size, can move with the puck and plays with poise.
Much is demanded of a young defenseman in the league. But Hanifin, 18, said that was part of the appeal of giving up college after his freshman year.
“I felt I want to challenge myself again,” he said. “Before I went to BC last year, I wanted a challenge. Obviously this is the highest level of hockey. I feel I’m going to have a big adjustment period and I’ll have to learn a lot from the older guys and take in as much as I can from the coaching staff for whatever team I’m playing for.”
Hanifin could be playing for the Hurricanes. He also could see time with the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate.
“We said to him and his agent what we say to everybody, that there’s no guarantees,” Francis said. “You’ve got to come in and earn your spot in training camp. We don’t promise anything.”
Francis noted the Canes’ best defenseman, Justin Faulk, made the Canes’ roster out of training camp after his freshman year at Minnesota-Duluth. Faulk later was sent to Charlotte for some games before returning and becoming a fixture in the lineup.
“It took some time, him going to Charlotte, getting some confidence and then coming back,” Francis said of Faulk, an NHL All-Star last season. “We want to make sure we do what’s right for Noah, long term.”
Nor is Hanifin the only young defensemen the Canes are looking to develop. Haydn Fleury was Carolina’s first-round pick last year. Jaccob Slavin and Tyler Ganly both signed their entry-level contract in the past two months. Roland McKeown, obtained in the late-season trade that sent defenseman Andrej Sekera to the Los Angeles Kings, signed his entry-level deal in April and Brett Pesce was signed in March.
Other D-men in camp included Josh Wesley, coming off a second season in the Ontario Hockey League; 2014 draft pick Kyle Jenkins and Jake Massie, selected two weeks ago at the NHL Draft. Raleigh resident Trevor Owens, who plays at Northeastern, was invited to camp and earned praise from the coaches and management.
Not that the camp was all about the defensemen. Forward Sebastian Aho of Finland, a second-round pick in this year’s draft, scored three times in Saturday’s scrimmage as the Red team won 7-3. Forward Sergey Tolchinsky flashed some ingenious offensive moves during the week and scored in the shootout that ended a scrimmage.
Tolchinsky, 20, will be back for the Canes’ preseason training camp. Aho, 17, likely will return to Finland for another year with Karpat Oulu in the Finnish Elite League.
Canes coach Bill Peters said he liked much of what he saw from the entire group, noting, “I thought everyone did a good job just getting better as the week went on.”
After the scrimmage, a whiteboard in the locker room had a message: “College guys: Hang/leave your Hurricanes gear in your stall.”
Hanifin’s stall was empty. As of Saturday, he’s no longer a college guy.
“That was a bonus to the day, for sure,” Peters said.