Being at the NHL All-Star Game for the first time has given Noah Hanifin time to reflect on all that has happened the past few years.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ defenseman has gone from Boston College to being a first-round draft pick to playing in the NHL at 18 to being selected an All-Star at 21.
“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy,” Hanifin said. “The big thing is you look back and it seems like it was yesterday I was just coming into the league.
“It goes by past and you learn so much. I remember it was a great experience coming in and being a young guy and kind of figuring out what the league is all about.”
Three years in, Hanifin is still figuring it out. While named to the Metropolitan Division team for Sunday’s All-Star Game in Tampa, Fla., while spending a few days hanging out with the NHL’s best, he realizes there’s still much to be done, much to learn.
Hanifin’s last game for the Canes may have been his best with the Canes. On his 21st birthday, he had three assists and a plus-5 rating — matching that of defensive partner Trevor van Riemsdyk — on Thursday as the Canes took a 6-5 road win over the Montreal Canadiens.
That had to lighten any fatigue factor and make the flight to Tampa seem shorter. It was also was the kind of game Canes coach Bill Peters hopes Hanifin can replicate in the stretch run of the season as the Canes (22-19-8) fight to stay in contention for a playoff spot.
Asked in Montreal about Hanifin’s development, Peters said the game was starting to slow down for the D-man.
“In the beginning, everything was fast, everything was new,” Peters said. “Everything now is a little more routine and more structured and more in control. He’s better defensively. His decisions with the puck have been more consistent.”
To be sure, Hanifin has made his share of poor decisions, some glaring and others not as noticeable.
In a Jan. 9 loss to Tampa Bay, Hanifin was beaten to a puck by the Lightning’s Tyler Johnson and then shouldered to the ice by the 5-9, 185-pound forward, who punched the puck past goalie Cam Ward.
Three days later, after Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon was officially introduced as the Hurricanes’ new majority owner, the Canes led the Capitals 3-2 with barely three minutes left in regulation at PNC Arena. A bad pass by Hanifin allowed the Caps to tie the score and Washington won in the final seconds of regulation — a gut-punch loss for the Canes.
“I can get a little aggravated when something like that happens,” Hanifin said.
A little aggravated? Closeups of Hanifin on the bench after poor plays often show him smoldering.
“I’m a pretty competitive guy, so sometimes I get aggravated, but that’s been my nature my whole life,” he said. “I know I can be better than that. But you have to know mistakes are part of the game. Everybody in the league makes them. All you can do is learn from them. I think I let them go.”
While Hanifin’s defensive work continues, he has become a more potent offensive player. While home in Boston this past summer, he spent time working with Adam Nicholas, a hockey skills instructor, and has added more velocity to his shot.
“He sure talks about it enough,” Canes defenseman Justin Faulk joked.
The results are there: Hanifin leads the Canes’ defensemen with seven goals and 24 points in 49 games.
“There’s huge upside to be reached,” Peters said.
Hanifin said the All-Star game would be a fun experience, and he spent time with old friends such as Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, who was kidding him about his flow at Saturday’s All-Star Skills Competition at Amalie Arena.
But it’s back at it Monday as the Canes, four points out wild-card playoff position, play the next eight games at home. The real grind begins.
NHL All-Star Game
When: 3:30 p.m., Sunday
Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay, Fla.