In the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft, the Hurricanes selected Jaccob Slavin, a defenseman out of the United States Hockey League. Little was known about Slavin at the time—Carolina's official Draft Day roundup incorrectly reported that he was heading to Colorado College this fall.
Instead, Slavin will return to the Chicago Steel of the USHL for his third campaign. I've watched Slavin in just about every home game ever since he was added to the roster in the middle of an awful 2010-11 season where the Steel mustered a league-worst 9-43-8 record.
On a team desperate for a spark, then head coach Jon Waibel picked the then 15-year-old Slavin—who went undrafted by every USHL club—out of the Colorado Thunderbirds' AAA program. In his fifth game with the club, Slavin potted a goal on a team that had extreme problems with offense.
This would be all that Slavin would record in his 17-game debut in the USHL, finishing with a minus-15 rating. To put that in perspective, that season's top scorer in Chicago, Alex Kubiak—who finished with a whopping 16 points—was a minus-27.
The 2011-12 season would put Slavin on the radar. Gone was Waibel, who was fired in midseason and replaced by new head coach Scott McConnell. With a fresh game plan, Slavin quickly rose to the challenge, both on and off the ice, and was named alternate captain despite still being one of the youngest players on the team.
Slavin would wind up being the only player on the Steel to play in the majority of the team's games and have a positive rating (plus-six). The Steel put the previous season behind them, finishing only three standings points out of a playoff spot, courtesy of a strong 13-4-2 finish. Slavin finished fourth on the team with 30 points (three goals, 27 assists), and totaled only 12 penalty minutes in 60 games. For what my word is worth, he was easily the team's MVP and most consistent player.
Slavin easily passes the eye test. He's one of the last players, on and off the ice, motivating everyone else on the team and making sure the doors are properly shut for the off-ice crew. A smooth skater with obvious offensive potential, Slavin's more likely to stay back and play defense.
His physicality could use an uptick; however, he's young, developing and still bulking up. In a preseason scrimmage I attended, Slavin seemed to be pinching in more on offense, trying to help his forwards make something happen. This season will be a true test of how much can be expected of Slavin from a physical perspective.
Slavin should appear on the Steel's top defensive pairings, power play and penalty-kill units. He'll be joined on the team by fellow NHL draftee Mackenzie MacEachern (third round, St. Louis Blues). With the Steel clearly aiming for a championship, Slavin will have plenty of time to prove himself as a value pick for the 'Canes down the road.