Had Noah Hanifin stayed at Boston College for his sophomore year, he’d be with the U.S. National Junior Team preparing for the 2016 World Junior Championship.
There also was the possibility of the Carolina Hurricanes loaning the defenseman to Team USA, which left Sunday for Vierumaki, Finland. The Canes decided against that, too, with the NHL rookie logging meaningful minutes and needed in the lineup.
“Obviously any time you get to represent your country it’s an honor,” Hanifin said. “It was one of those things where I was going to be happy with any decision they made. I just want to get better and whatever decision they made for me I trusted them that it would be for a positive path in my development.
“That they wanted me to stay here and play with the team, I think that’s a good thing. This is my team, obviously, and I want to continue to play with these guys and keep getting better. So I’m happy with it and happy to still be here.”
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There will be Canes prospects competing in the World Juniors. Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic is on Team USA and forward Sebastian Aho on the Finnish team. Defensemen Hadyn Fleury and Roland McKeown will compete for Canada, it was announced Sunday.
Hanifin, 18, isn’t the only NHL rookie the U.S. will be missing when the World Juniors starts Dec. 26 in Helsinki. Forwards Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings also will be staying put
Hanifin, Eichel and Larkin all were members of Team USA in the 2015 World Juniors held in Toronto and Montreal. Team USA was beaten 3-2 by Russia in the quarterfinals — Canes prospect Sergey Tolchinsky scoring the winning goal — and Canada went on to take the gold.
Hanifin had a pair of assists and was plus-3 in the five games. Eichel had a goal and three assists and Larkin finished with five goals and two assists.
Larkin, the 15th overall pick of the 2014 draft, has 12 goals and 11 assists for the Wings this season, establishing himself. Eichel was the No. 2 pick of the 2015 draft, — Hanifin was No. 5 and the first defenseman taken — and has nine goals and seven assists.
“They’re having successful years in the NHL and will be staying,” Hanifin said, “but I know a lot of the guys on the U.S. team and I’m friends with all of them. I think they have a real good shot at winning it. They have a lot of talent up front with Auston Matthews and those guys. I think they’ll be OK.”
Hanifin played 37 games for Boston College last season. He’s now at 30 for his rookie NHL season, playing against the best forwards in the world, and Canes coach Bill Peters said the day-to-day grind on Hanifin, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin is a concern.
“All of us have basically played a college season and we’re not even half-way through yet,” Hanifin said. “There are times when you feel a little drowsy or what-not, but one of the lessons this year is learning how to play like that. You play so many games and you have to learn to play when you’re tired and be able to go do your job.
“I think that’s something I’m getting adjusted to and learning how to do.”