Noah Hanifin of Boston College (Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey)
The best defenseman available for the 2015 draft may end up going third overall thanks to his hyped-up peers, but the teen slated to become the youngest player in Boston College's history is also incredibly gifted.
You've heard of top 2015 draft prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel already and while there's little doubt those two phenomenal centers will be the first names called at the podium in Florida next summer, the prizes for poor teams don't end there. The 2015 draft is looking incredibly stacked and the next name that needs to be stamped in your memory is defenseman Noah Hanifin.
The 6-foot-2, 201-pounder led the U.S. National Team Development Program's under-17 squad in points from the blueline last season with eight goals and 33 points in 45 games and was also bumped up for the world under-18s, where he helped the Americans win gold while playing on a great pairing with recent Columbus second-rounder Ryan Collins. Hanifin led the U.S. blueline in scoring there, too.
"He's dominant in both ends," said one scout. "He has vision, poise with the puck and is never forced into making a bad decision. Noah is a complete, 200-foot player and he plays in all situations."
No wonder Boston College was amped to have him this year. Despite the fact the Eagles are one of the perennial favorites to win the national title, they will be welcoming Hanifin to Chestnut Hill this fall, reportedly making him the youngest player in team history at the age of 17. And like Michigan recruit Zach Werenski, Hanifin had to load up his summer with school work in order to be academically eligible for the big leap. That meant a lot of sacrifice and days filled with workouts and studies.
"I talked to Zach a lot this summer," Hanifin said. "Being from Boston, it has always been my dream to play for Boston College and I wanted to challenge myself. It gets tiring, but it will all be worth it."
As it turns out, mathematics can be a lot harder when you don't have a teacher in front of you and the toughest course for the teen was a personal finance class that he took online. Which is ironic, because if Hanifin progresses on the track he is currently on, he'll be making big bank in the NHL sooner than later. Some of the insiders I've been speaking to this summer think the youngster may be even better than Seth Jones – you know, that kid that went straight to the NHL from the draft and played nearly 20 minutes a night for Nashville this past season.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, Hanifin's 2014-15 campaign is shaping up to be very exciting. Boston College will once again be a Hockey East power, while the freshman defenseman will also get a chance to shine at USA Hockey's All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo on Sept. 25. He and Eichel are the biggest names involved and for competition's sake, hopefully they're on opposite teams. The two Massachusetts products actually played together when they were kids and Eichel also won gold at the under-18s this past spring.
With Eichel heading to rival Boston University as a true freshman himself, the two will also renew acquaintances at least twice during the regular season and maybe at the annual Beanpot tournament, which pits the four Boston NCAA schools (Harvard and Northeastern being the other two) against each other. Right now they'd have to meet in the final and with Boston College winning the past five installments, the stakes are high. But sometimes players just want to be pals, even if they will be rivals eventually.
"We haven't really brought that up," Hanifin said. "Jack's just a really good friend to talk to about anything. It doesn't always have to be about hockey."
A big fan of Chicago's Duncan Keith, Hanifin still wants to work on his shot, but knows his skating helps him a lot on the ice. Hanifin was a hot commodity in the CHL/NCAA recruiting wars, with the Quebec Remparts drafting his rights. Quebec hosts the Memorial Cup this year, so Hanifin would have been guaranteed a spot in the illustrious tournament. But thoughts of La Belle Province were fleeting and he never visited the Remparts.
"My main goal was to play college hockey," he said. "And I wanted to honor that commitment."
Based on his skill set and size, this may even be the only season Hanifin gets to play for Boston College – the NHL will no doubt be calling for his services soon.