In Defense of Noah Hanifin: Surviving the Sophomore Slump

Second year Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin has struggled this season, but it shouldn’t be grounds to move him.

This season, and this last few months in particular, have been a struggle for young Noah Hanifin. After putting together an impressive rookie year for a teenage defenseman, Hanifin is slumping his sophomore season. He is no longer a teenager and he has played 130 career games, leading to some calling him a bust already. Just hold your horses there.

Let me preface this by saying that Hanifin has had a bad year. There is no denying that. With plus/minus, the 20 year old is one of the worst on the team, and arguably the worst if you consider he plays substantially less than Justin Faulk does per game. Also, despite his inclusion quarterbacking the Canes second powerplay unit, his offensive performance has been abysmal overall. To often he tries to do way too much and leaves his team hung out to dry. There are clearly problems with his game that need fixing.

However, the calls for Hanifin to be traded are totally unjustified. It has been a rough spring in Carolina, there is no doubt of that. Yet, it feels very harsh to levy so much blame on young Hanifin and here is why.

Despite getting the short end of the stick more times than not, Caniac Nation is a little spoiled when it comes to young defensmen. Hanifin is merely one of five or six examples of exciting young defensmen in the Hurricanes organization.

Specifically, lets look at fellow sophomores Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Both have had incredible seasons this year. Even though both log high minutes, they are ranked 1 and 2 in team plus/minus by a lot. They also match up with the best lines defensively and have shown to be great assets when they jump into the rush. They are Carolina’s best defensive pair by a wide margin.

If you flash back to the end of last year though, Hanifin was in their same breath. All three put together absurdly good rookie years for young defensmen. Going into this season, everyone knew at least one of these guys was going to feel the effects of a sophomore slump. It’s arguably more surprising just one of these guys has felt these effects this season given how rough the last few months have been. Let’s also not forget that Hanifin is Pesce and Slavin’s junior by 2 years, meaning he was more prone to slumping in his second season.

Since Hanifin is usually grouped with Slavin and Pesce, he is automatically judged to their incredibly high standards. That is unfair. The two are a pairing, have excellent chemistry, compliment each others play style, and perhaps most importantly, bail each other out when a mistake is made. For Hanifin, all this season he has seen a different defensive partner, many times with someone who couldn’t help him out when the inevitable mistake gets made.

It also doesn’t help that other guys in his draft year are having spectacular seasons. Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets has 8 goals and 31 points this season, easily trumping Hanifin’s 15 points. For Canes fans, it has to leave a sour taste in your mouth to see a guy selected 3 picks after Hanifin perform so well.

Once again though, Werenski, like Slavin and Pesce, is an exception to the rules. Werenski is lucky enough to fill in on a team with a high flying offense and an exceptional goal keeper. Hanifin has neither of those things. Throw Noah Hanifin in for Werenski and you’d likely see minimal difference in team and player success.

These comparisons to guys who are exceptions from the norm actually shows Hanifin in a positive light. Just by grouping him with these exceptional young players, it shows how good Hanifin is and how good he can be. Everyone knows this kid has immense potential and they are eager to see it. However, it is naive to assume he doesn’t have that ‘it’ factor after just a season and a half.

A more realistic comparison is with Shayne Gostibehere, a fellow NHL sophomore that plays on a fickle team with average goaltending. Ghost bear has stats similar to those of Hanifin’s this season. Is that a good thing? Well, no. But, it does say that quality hockey players, especially young ones, go through rough patches. It is up to that player to overcome that adversity and improve themselves for future years. So, giving up on someone with such immense potential as Noah Hanifin is very fool hardy. You got to be patient.

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