Age has never been an issue for Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin, who has flourished at each level of his hockey career despite usually being one of the younger players.
Success first came for the 21-year-old Hanifin in the United States Hockey League (USHL) with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP), then at Boston College and now in the National Hockey League.
“It definitely pushes you and makes you uncomfortable,” Hanifin said. “I thought for me, personally, it was great for my development and made me a lot better as a player because it got me used to playing against older guys. I’m still a young guy playing at this level, but I’ve just been kind of used to it for so long because I’ve been playing against older competition.”
Hanifin, a native of Boston, first received a taste of older competition as a 16-year-old in the NTDP, playing in the USHL against 19-and-20-year-olds.
“It’s difficult for sure, especially in your first year,” Hanifin said. “For the most part, all of those guys are playing in their own age groups, and they’re superstars where they came from. Then, you’re all of the sudden playing against pretty good players who are a lot older than you.”
That never bothered Hanifin, who at 17 became the youngest to ever play at Boston College when he skated in his first game in October 2014. He spent one season at BC, registering 23 points in 37 games, good for third in points among all NCAA Division I rookie defensemen.
“Each step you progress, you develop in certain areas,” Hanifin said. “I think being a young guy playing against older competition at the NTDP, I think that prepared me very well for playing at [Boston College], and when I went to BC, it wasn’t really too much of a difference and I was pretty used to it.”
The trend has continued in the NHL for Hanifin, the Hurricanes’ No. 5 overall pick in 2015. A year after becoming the youngest to play at Boston College, Hanifin became the only defenseman from the 2015 Draft to start the season in the NHL when he made his Hurricanes’ debut Oct. 8 against Nashville.
“Coming to the NHL is a different step, but you’re still kind of used to being around older guys and playing against older competition,” Hanifin said. “I think each step of the way is good for a guy’s development.”
Hanifin admitted it’s better for the development of some to play amongst their peers. That hasn’t been the case for Hanifin, who turned 21 on Jan. 25. Hanifin, who was selected to play in his first NHL All-Star Game in late January, also already played his 200th career game Jan. 4 at Pittsburgh.
“It goes by quick, and you learn a lot,” Hanifin said. “I feel like just yesterday I came into the league. When you’re playing in the NHL and playing against this level of competition, you’re always getting better and there’s always room for growth. It has been a great process for me.”
When you’re playing in the NHL and playing against this level of competition, you’re always getting better and there’s always room for growth...
It all started for Hanifin with his growth and development in the NTDP where he competed against some of the best hockey players in the nation, not only on a daily basis in the USHL, but also internationally.
“They definitely put you there, you grow in every aspect of the game and you get a lot more mature,” Hanifin said. “I think it’s a great program and it helped me tremendously. I kind of learned at a young age how important it is to play on a big, international stage for your country. It has always been a privilege of mine to wear the USA sweater and it’s always an honor.”
Hanifin was a member of the 2014 gold medal-winning U.S. National Under-18 Team, in addition to the U.S. Under-17 Team that won gold in the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“It was awesome and a great experience,” Hanifin said. “We had so many good players on those teams. It’s kind of one of those moments where you look back, you remember playing with all those guys, winning and coming together for one common goal. It’s an awesome experience.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.