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If you ask 10 people who closely follow the New Jersey Devils what the team's biggest weakness is, nine of them will tell you defense. In particular, they really need help on the left side.
Andy Greene's best days are clearly behind him, John Moore is a pending free agent, and Mirco Mueller's ceiling is, uh, limited. Beyond Will Butcher, who had a very strong rookie season, there just isn't much talent there.
One player who a) would help address that issue and; b) may actually be available is Noah Hanifin.
His name surfaced in trade rumors quite a bit around the deadline and that hasn't changed with a new general manager and a hands on owner – one eager to shake things up, at that – now running the operation.
There is no questioning Hanifin's skillset and his underlying numbers have improved each year. While not exactly surprising for a young player chosen in the top-5 of his draft class, steady progression is still encouraging to see.
It's worth noting Hanifin has been used in favorable situations. Like Butcher, Hanifin hasn't faced high-end competition and he's been the beneficiary of a lot of offensive zone starts.
There are a couple reasons for this. The big one: Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are fantastic and they've proven they can excel playing toughs, which leads to easier minutes for everyone else. The other: Hanifin isn't exactly a finished product defensively.
Still, Hanifin would be a really solid get. He has the skating ability to fit in with how the Devils play under John Hynes. He's another guy who can help transition from defense to offense, which they need. At 21, he fits in with the team's developing core. And, though he needs a new contract this summer, he's a while away from UFA eligibility and is someone the Devils can control for the long haul. He checks off a lot of boxes.
Extracting Hanifin from the Hurricanes would be difficult – especially for a divisional opponent. Perhaps it'd take something like Pavel Zacha and a 1st round pick, or quality prospect, to do so.
Any trade would certainly be costly. But maybe Hanifin's worth it.
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