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Babin signs pro contract, will play in AHL tonight

Kyle Cassily | Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Notre Dame senior defenseman Noah Babin signed a two-year contract with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and is expected to be in the lineup tonight for the Albany River Rats, Carolina’s affiliate in the American Hockey League, Jason Karmanos, vice president and general manager of the Hurricanes, announced Monday.

Babin, who arrived Tuesday with the River Rats in Albany, will begin his two-year professional contract with the start of the 2007-08 season and will spend the remainder of this year’s AHL season in Albany before he graduates from Notre Dame in May. The River Rats play the Syracuse Crunch tonight with 11 games remaining in the regular season.

“Noah has exceptional skating ability, which is extremely important in the game today,” Karmanos said in a news release. “That, combined with his strong work ethic, gives him a solid foundation to start his pro career.”

The Hurricanes became interested in Babin through another Notre Dame player – Carolina seventh-round draft pick and Irish freshman defenseman Kyle Lawson. Ron Francis, director of player development for Carolina and a 23-year NHL veteran, visited South Bend several times throughout the season to check up on Lawson and in the process was struck enough by Babin’s play to sign the undrafted senior.

“I know that after the first time, he was coming in specifically to see Lawson and his development,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “[Francis] and I spoke several times and talked about Noah. And he said they were looking at free-agent defensemen, and I knew there was a pretty deep interest there.”

Jackson said Babin generated interest from the pro team with his naturally strong skating and puck-handling abilities, but his work in the past few years on his play without the puck is what will help him make a career in the NHL.

“I give him credit, because he really worked to develop his game in a more complete fashion than just be run-and-gun all the time,” Jackson said.

Babin led the Irish defense in points this season with a career-high 22 points (two goals, 20 assists) on a blue-line unit that surrendered only 1.63 goals per game – the best in the nation.

“He always had the ability, and it was just a matter of him playing that ability with a little more concentration on how he plays the game,” Jackson said. “It was more a matter of him taking that next step as a player, as a defenseman. This year he just came in much more determined and focused to become a complete player.”

Jackson said he expects Babin to play in the AHL for “a good year, maybe two” – depending on the depth of the Carolina defense and the time it takes him to adjust to the professional game. The AHL is the minor league directly below the NHL, in which teams develop most of their players for the final jump to the top league.

“With the way the game is today, I think he could have a chance to make [an NHL career],” Jackson said.

Babin is the first Irish player from the senior class to sign a pro contract, although defenseman Wes O’Neill and goalie Dave Brown were drafted by the Islanders and the Penguins, respectively, in 2004.