Jaccob Slavin is about to enter a hockey season unlike any other for the Carolina Hurricanes, and it has little to do with the playoffs, amped up expectations or whether Justin Williams plays or retires.
Slavin is a father. He’s a changed man. The Canes defenseman and his wife, Kylie, have adopted a baby girl and they introduced Emersyn Ruth Slavin to the world through social media, posting her photo with her name this month on Jaccob’s Instagram account.
“No words can describe the joy in our house tonight! Emersyn Ruth is officially ours,” Slavin wrote.
A man of strong faith, Slavin gives thanks to the Lord for bringing his daughter into his life, into Kylie’s life. The adoption process can be long, emotional and draining and it was for the Slavins. But that’s behind them now. It’s all about family time, about providing a loving home for Emersyn Ruth, now more than four months old, and watching their first child grow.
“It’s a blast, so much fun,” Slavin said in an N&O interview Monday at Raleigh Center Ice. “I would consider her an easy baby, although I don’t know anything else. She’s been sleeping well for the most part. She’s super fun, super outgoing.”
Slavin smiled, saying, “She definitely has a little bit of a jabber mouth on her, but it’s a lot of fun. Emersyn is a blessing, that’s for sure. Parenthood is awesome.”
Slavin said before the 2018-19 season that he and his wife were on a waiting list to adopt a child. Months passed before the adoption finally was approved -- during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Slavin took some personal leave days away from the team and once took Canes owner Tom Dundon up on his offer to fly Slavin back to Raleigh on his jet after one of the playoff games.
While announcing the adoption in April, the Slavins posted a photo that had a sunflower covering Emersyn Ruth’s face. Once the adoption was finalized, the Slavins posted the new photo on Instagram.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Slavin said. “I put it on there (in April) and Kylie made me take it down right away, and then she said, ‘OK, go ahead and put it back on.’ It’s weird because we had a flower over her face for a long time because (the adoption) wasn’t finalized. There was some legal stuff and we weren’t able to.”
“It’s a strange situation knowing that it’s final but also knowing she has family out there,” he said. “It’s a working relationship. The birth mother has been awesome. It’s been good.”
Slavin talked about the adoption and a new season Monday after putting in a voluntary skate at RCI with defenseman Haydn Fleury, again an early arrival. Equipment manager Jorge Alves was in the net serving as the goalie while Canes head coach Rod Brind’Amour worked with his youngest son, Brooks, and Alves’ son, Jaxon, on the other end of the ice.
The NHL Network on Sunday listed what it called the best 20 defensemen in the league. Slavin wasn’t on it, not that those things bother him.
The playoffs gave Slavin added exposure he didn’t crave, and he had 11 assists in the 15 postseason games. He said he does want to be a more productive offensive player this season after finishing with eight goals and 23 assists in 82 regular-season games last year.
Then again, defensive partner Dougie Hamilton scored 18 goals last season, second in the NHL among defensemen. Once together, the Canes’ No. 1 pairing was solid enough.
“I let him do the offensive side of the game and get the puck to him,” Slavin said. “I take care of the defensive end and let him do his thing.”
For the first time since 2009, Slavin and the Canes won’t go into a season facing the nagging question of whether they’re capable of making the playoffs. They made it. They ended the postseason drought.
The Canes also reached the Eastern Conference finals last season, surprising many who follow the NHL but not, Slavin said, themselves. Not after January, when things began falling into place and the Canes starting winning more close games. Not after beating the Washington Capitals, the 2018 Stanley Cup champs, in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We could sense it coming, taking it game by game, and when the playoffs came anything can happen,” Slavin said. “We kind of got on a roll there. We had a great group of guys and a great dynamic in the room, and ‘Willy’ being the leader made it easy.”
That would be Williams, the Canes’ captain. He still is unsigned, his return -- or retirement -- still in question.
“I don’t think he’s going to make a choice that he’s going to regret,” Slavin said. “Obviously we’re all hoping he comes back to play. If he doesn’t, he obviously has a well-earned retirement.”
One consideration for Williams, 37, is being away from his family so much the past 18 seasons. Slavin now will be getting a feel for that at 25.
“It’s going to be challenging this season,” Slavin said. “It will be interesting. I know Kylie is excited for hockey to start but not me being gone.
“It will all work itself out. It’ll be good. I’ve got to make sure I give them the time they need and I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do here at the rink. Obviously there are important things at home.”