Carolina Hurricanes

For Hurricanes rookie Noah Hanifin, learning process gets faster

Bill Peters on the positive vibe of the Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters discusses preparations for the Canes' season opener Thursday against the Nashville Predators and defenseman Noah Hanifin making his NHL debut.
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Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters discusses preparations for the Canes' season opener Thursday against the Nashville Predators and defenseman Noah Hanifin making his NHL debut.

Had Noah Hanifin stayed at Boston College for his sophomore hockey season, he’d be preparing for a trip this week to West Point, N.Y., for the Eagles’ opener against Army.

But Hanifin will make another trip, for a more memorable, keepsake kind of game. The defenseman will be in Nashville, Tenn., making his NHL debut against the Predators as the Carolina Hurricanes begin a new season.

Hanifin is 18. And while Canes general manager Ron Francis has said the organization prefers its young prospects to first get their feet wet and develop in the American Hockey League, with the Charlotte Checkers, Hanifin is an exception.

“It does go a little bit against what we’ve been preaching,” Francis said Tuesday. “In his case, he’s really done a lot of good things during the course of training camp. He’s smart. You tell him something and he listens to it, he learns from it and he goes out and executes it the next game.

“As long as we pay attention to the details and manage his confidence to make sure he doesn’t get too hard on himself, we think it’s the right decision to make at this point.”

The Hurricanes made Hanifin the fifth overall pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft with the idea the smooth-skating defenseman from Massachusetts might be able to crack their roster. Before leaving the team’s prospects conditioning camp in July, Hanifin signed his entry-level contract with the Hurricanes, ending his college career.

The rest was up to him. Did he have what it takes to play now in the NHL? The first answers would come in training camp.

“It’s been an awesome learning process for me,” Hanifin said. “Obviously there was a lot of competition here, and it’s one of those things where you just keep working, knowing anything can happen.”

The Canes announced Saturday the camp roster had been trimmed to 22. Hanfin was one of seven defensemen remaining while Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce were sent to the Checkers, and Haydn Fleury, Carolina’s first-round draft pick in 2014, was returned to his junior team.

“He’s a very good player, gets better all the time,” coach Bill Peters said of Hanifin. “Intelligent, humble kid. He’s got man strength at 18. He’s good in his battles. He’s coachable. He’s going to have some moments, some situations he’s not comfortable with, but that’s part of it.

Hanifin made his pro debut Sept. 22 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was on the ice for five of the Penguins’ seven goals – and two of the Canes’ scores – and said he had a “welcome to the NHL” moment when Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel teamed up for a quick score.

“They were down the ice in a blink of the eye,” Hanifin said, smiling. “It was crazy.”

But Hanifin had a second chance. He was in the lineup for the 2-1 victory Friday at PNC Arena but also on the ice when Pascal Dupuis scored Pittsburgh’s goal.

“I’m getting more comfortable,” Hanifin said. “Obviously the speed of the game will get even harder, and the pace of the game will keep escalating,”

Francis noted Canes defenseman Justin Faulk spent the 2010-11 season as a freshman at Minnesota-Duluth, then he made the Canes’ roster the next season. After making his NHL debut against Tampa Bay, he struggled for a few games and was sent to the Checkers.

“He got his confidence back and then he came back up and has been tremendous every since,” Francis said.

Faulk said his advice to Hanifin would be similar to what former Canes coach Paul Maurice told him before his first NHL game.

“He said not to worry about who I was playing against, that I deserve to be there and on the same ice with them,” Faulk said. “Just worry about getting the job done out there and playing your game.”

Hanifin said he has stayed in touch with his Boston College buddies, with some of his former teammates. But he said he has a “full-time job now, 24-7” and that his mind is on Nashville and that first NHL game.

“It’s something I’ve dreamt about since I was a little boy, skating out before the game and playing in front of thousands of fans,” Hanifin said. “It will be exciting.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

Home opener

vs. Red Wings, 7 p.m., Saturday (FSCR)