The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is 25 days away and the Wild are looking to find that next NHL star to raise their franchise to the next level. Hockey Wilderness is counting down the days with a daily mock draft. We are at pick number 5 today.
The Carolina Hurricanes are another in the shortlist of also-rans who did their damndest to be the worst team in the league and guarantee themselves either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. However, they just couldn't match the terror that was the Buffalo Sabres 2014-15 season.
With the fifth pick, they grab a defenseman who could easily go as high as number three: Noah Hanifin. And since the Hurricanes aren't the Edmonton Oilers, they won't look a gift horse in the mouth and they'll just draft the best player on the board.
Carolina Prospect Pool
Carolina is in the very early stages of fixing their 30-41-11 record. Hockey's Future has them as the 29th ranked prospect pool going into last season. Haydn Fleury and Ryan Murphy lead their prospective of defensemen, with 23-year-old Justin Faulk leading the pack of defensemen already in the NHL.
While Fleury is exciting and there are guys like Faulk, Elias Lindholm, and Viktor Rask on the squad, they lack a top-line, scoring forward that could give them something to build around. But, their needs are many and they have to draft the best player on the board no matter the position. With Faulk, Fleury, and Hanifin on the blue line, Carolina would be well on their way to building a defensive juggernaut, particularly if 19-year-old goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic continues to develop. He finished the season with a .916 Sv% for the OHL's Plymouth Whalers.
For where they finished in the standings, Carolina showed a lot of good signs. They were ninth in the league in even strength CF%, but having the second worst team save percentage and team shooting percentage (giving them a league-worst PDO) helped make their ability to drive play, particularly late in the season, irrelevant.
About Noah Hanifin
Hanifin enters the draft NHL-sized at 6'2" and 203 pounds. He's a rare commodity for his age, because his size doesn't slow him down at all. He's a fantastic skater and has more hockey sense at 18 than many players ever develop. He's great passer and produced well for Boston College in his freshman season, posting five goals, 23 points, and 52 blocked shots in 37 games.
Hockey's Future assesses him thusly:
Hanifin is a smooth-skating defender with good size and acceleration who can generate some offense from the blueline but is also solid defensively. Although not a truly physical defenseman, he does not shy away form contact and will initiate it when necessary.
Josh Cooper put it perfect in the headline of a Puck Daddy article back in March when he said, Noah Hanifin is more than a consolation prize.
How He'd Fit with the Wild
Hanifin is easily the top defender in the draft. He'd fit in well anywhere. With the Wild's depth on the blue line, however, the Wild might have a tough time getting him NHL ice time without trading someone. Though trading a blueliner might happen anyway. Nonetheless, a year in the AHL or splitting time might not be a terrible move for Hanifin, whose ceiling appears to be very high, should the Wild find themselves in that situation.
Unfortunately, the odds are better that Star Wars is a real thing that takes place in the future, relayed to us through a magi intermediary named George than that Noah Hanifin would fall to the 20th pick for the Wild to scoop up. But buck up, Wild fans, there's a chance you'll be seeing him skate with Zach Parise at some point, when Hanifin is ready to play for Team USA at the World Cup or Olympics (though I wouldn't bet on it being the 2016 World Cup).