For the newest Canes defenseman, Jani Hakanpaa, it’s ‘so far, so good’ in Carolina

Chip Alexander

Jani Hakanpaa had been traded by the Anaheim Ducks. He hopped a cross-country flight and found himself in a Raleigh hotel room, alone with his thoughts.

“It was kind of a whirlwind,” he said Saturday. “Everything happens fast and suddenly late, late Monday night I’m here. You’re in a hotel room wondering how is this going to go.”

Here’s how it went:

Hakanpaa played his first two games for the Carolina Hurricanes — two victories over the Nashville Predators — and was in two postgame Storm Surge celebrations, clapping away, raising his stick.

In his second game, Saturday against the Predators, the hulking, shutdown defenseman scored the go-ahead goal in the third period of a 3-1 win, was named the game’s first star and had Canes fans chanting, “Jani! Jani!” when it was over.

That’s how it went, but it’s a funny thing: That’s not quite what he was wondering about late, late this past Monday night.

“I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t think of that,” he said, smiling. “But it’s nice. It’s cool how the fans took me in. I’m really glad and honored by that.”

The Hakanpaa deal was the only move the Canes made at the NHL trade deadline. Defenseman Haydn Fleury, a player well liked by his teammates and a former Carolina first-round draft pick who was developed in the Canes organization into an NHL-caliber player, went the other way/

But the Canes wanted another right-shot defenseman. Hakanpaa is that. They wanted a D-man with size willing to play with an edge, not shy about hitting. Hakanpaa is that, too.

Not that Hakanpaa, who is third among NHL skaters with 175 hits, runs around the ice looking to hammer people or goon it up. But when the time comes and the opportunity arises, he is 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, and he can deliver.

He did that Thursday in his Canes debut, knocking down the Preds’ Mikael Granlund with a clean open-ice hit. He did it Saturday to Calle Jarnkrok by the Nashville bench.

Carolina Hurricanes Jani Hakanpaa (58) and Nashville Predators center Matt Duchene (95) skate for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, April 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Carolina Hurricanes Jani Hakanpaa (58) and Nashville Predators center Matt Duchene (95) skate for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, April 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

“He’s a great addition to the team,” Canes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said Saturday. “He’s smart, he’s physical, he skates well. He fits in well with our D corps. The coaching staff has done a great job getting him up to speed on all the system stuff.”

Hakanpaa, 29, was in the starting lineup Saturday and briefly paired with Brady Skjei before being moved back alongside defenseman Jake Bean. In 14:23 of ice time, all at even strength, he had four shots, four hits and blocked four shots.

“He had some big plays all over the ice,” Slavin said.

The biggest was on a faceoff in the Preds’ zone in the third period, the score tied 1-1 with 11:07 left in regulation. Vincent Trocheck, confident he’d win the draw, told Hakanpaa the puck would be coming back to him and to, well, rip it.

Trocheck won the draw. “Put it on a silver platter for me,” Hakanpaa said.

He ripped it. Just like that, it was 2-1. Hakanpaa’s first goal with the Canes also was his first of the season, leaving goalie Juuse Saros contorting his body, peering through the bodies between them to make sure he knew who had beaten him on the shot.

No. 58, Hakanpaa.

With Slavin scoring late in the first period, the Canes got two goals from D-men, and Dougie Hamilton picked up his team-leading 29th assist of the season on Andrei Svechnikov’s late empty-net goal.

Needing a nickname

In a week when there was much social media debate about a nickname, and which Canes player called forward Martin Necas “Sugarboo” before Thursday’s game, what about the new guy, the big guy from Finland? What to call him?

“There’s a few floating around,” said Slavin, who said “Hakan Dazs” might be one. “We’ll come up with something and something will stick.”

Hakanpaa said he was usually called “Hak” in Anaheim. That’s it, just “Hak.”

And with the Canes?

“They might wind up making up their own,” Hakanpaa said. “Whatever the guys want to call me, I’ll take it.”

Carolina Hurricanes vs Tampa Bay Lightning

When: Monday, 7 p.m.

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Fla.

TV: BSSO (Bally).