When Noah Hanifin inked his name to a stack of papers in front of several thousand Carolina Hurricanes fans on Saturday, he not only signed his first NHL contract but also signed a goodbye to his NCAA career at Boston College.
Hanifin, the Hurricanes' No. 5 overall selection in this summer's draft, ascended to such a high position in the draft order because of a splendid freshman season with the Eagles.
Yet on Saturday, he prevented himself from ever returning for a sophomore campaign by signing a three-year entry-level contract, per the team reporter Terrell Williams.
Since being drafted just over two weeks ago, Hanifin's verdict on his path forward entering 2015-16 has been uncertain to everyone but the Massachusetts native.
Players under contract to play hockey professionally are ineligible to play in the NCAA, but they can play in Canadian junior leagues if not in the NHL or affiliated minor leagues. Meanwhile, players under contract in the juniors can be called up to the NHL but not to the AHL or ECHL.
Hanifin could have returned to B.C. for another season of development while Carolina retained his rights. Or Hanifin could have signed his entry-level contract now to shoot for an NHL job in training camp but faced the risk of playing for the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts (the team that owns the junior league rights to him) should he fall short.
He chose the latter, evidently valuing the opportunity to immediately pursue his NHL dream and the stacks of cash that come with it—roughly $2.5 million over three years, including a $277,500 signing bonus—over the familiarity of Boston College and the risk of short-term failure.
Said Hanifin in his Saturday press conference:
It's a tough decision. My time at BC was terrific and it was really tough calling my coach this morning telling him what I'm doing, but at the same time I'm really excited to be a part of this organization. I feel that I'm ready to make the step (to the NHL).
He'll get his shot in September in training camp. But it won't be an easy shot.
With NHL veterans Justin Faulk, James Wisniewski and Ron Hainsey all absolutely guaranteed roster spots, the other three slots on the Hurricanes' opening-day defensive depth chart will dangle above a pit of nearly a dozen starving dogs.
Aging John-Michael Liles is a very good bet to earn the fourth. Michal Jordan was just awarded a one-way contract last month, giving him the inside track on the fifth.
Will Hanifin make the Hurricanes in 2015-16?
That leaves three recent top-12 picks, including Hanifin as well as Haydn Fleury (who has done nothing to lower his stock since going No. 7 in 2014) and Ryan Murphy (whose stock, conversely, has declined), to vie for the sixth.
Maybe. Trevor Carrick, Roland McKeown, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, Danny Biega and Rasmus Rissanen would all love to insert themselves into the puzzle too.
"There's going to be an unbelievable competition on the back end," said head coach Bill Peters on Saturday. "Guys are going to report in great shape and the exhibition games are going to matter for these guys. For the young guys, I expect to see rapid growth."
It's hard to forecast Hanifin's odds of beating out all of that competition as very promising.
The man himself, however, seems confident nevertheless—confident enough to forgo a chance to play for his second-most preferred team to chase an outside chance to play for his most preferred.