It’s going to be a pretty busy week for the NHL. Here’s a timeline:
Sunday: Teams revealed their protected players lists that Vegas cannot draft.
Through Wednesday morning: Vegas works behind the scenes to finalize its roster, picking one player from every team for a total of 30. This list of 30 players must include at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. The total player salary must be at least $43.8 million. The Golden Knights must submit their full list of selections by 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.
Wednesday night: The NHL Awards and NHL Expansion Draft will take place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (home of the Golden Knights), where Vegas will publicly announce its roster.
Friday-Saturday: The NHL Entry Draft in Chicago.
Let’s focus on Friday, because that’s when the first overall pick will be selected by the New Jersey Devils.
In previous years, it’s been a slam dunk (using a basketball reference in a hockey piece?) — make that, an Ovechkin shot from the top of the circle (otherwise known as the Ovi-Zone) who the No. 1 overall pick would be, for example Connor McDavid two years ago and Auston Matthews last year. This year, however, experts, scouts and fans are vigorously going back and forth on that coveted position, between two players:
Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.
As if there hasn’t already been enough written about these two, there will be a ton more this week as we lead up to Friday and the big selection. “The Decision,” if you will. That sounds like a good name for a televised sports event where a player joins a new team…
Some analysis out there will be strictly X’s and O’s. Most of this won’t be. Let’s begin:
Bald men everywhere cringe with jealousy at the sight of these two young top prospects. Both of them have a great head of hair, no doubt about it.
Patrick’s hairdo has a more modern look. That “brush it back and to the side, leave it long” style that’s the rage these days, short of a No. 1 buzz trim on the sides or some sort of funky arrow point near the top of the head. Very profesh.
Hischier on the other hand, is bringing back a popular hairstyle from the ’90s (well, I had one in the ’90s) and it’s totally working. Imagine the Swiss shooter garnering attention in the show next year, with that parted hairstyle. Suddenly, hockey fans are growing out their hair, going to their hair stylists and asking for “The Hischier.” Could totally happen.
Inevitably, prospects will be compared to past (or event current) players.
Hischier has lightning in his legs — his strides from a stand still are magic to watch, he goes from 0 to 60 like a Porsche. There are even videos online comparing his acceleration to the reigning scoring champion, Connor McDavid. Also in that video are comparisons to the great Pavel Bure, not just in speed but in puck handling and sizzle. He’s also made some Datsyuk-ian plays and dangles in the last year.
There are two players that Patrick is most compared to: The first is his idol, fellow Winnipegger Jonathan Toews, in terms of their all around game. Maybe being born in the same city has something to do with that too. When Patrick gets asked this question, he brings up Anze Kopitar.
Those are four franchise players, so I will decide this one by Cups won. Toews/Kopitar 5, Bure/McDavid 0* (*but you can totally see McDavid winning a Cup one day).
THE PAST SEASON
This is where I think the debate truly began between these two. This past October, some draft lists had Hischier ranked at No. 30 and even beyond. How did he climb up? By playing a ton of games and getting a ton of points.
Across the regular season and playoffs for the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL, and Switzerland in the Under 18 Championships, Hischier played 77 hockey games and collected 111 points (or 1.44 points a game). Along the way he caught the eye of scouts, coaches, players and fans. Even USA World Juniors coach Bob Motzko had high praise for Hischier after the US edged Switzerland 3-2 in their Quarterfinal matchup.
“We tried all 4 lines against him, and I thought he was playing every shift, because every time he got out there, the ice was tilted,” Motzko said.
(Hischier had both goals for the Swiss, by the way)
Paul Castron, the Devils Director of Amateur Scouting, felt that Hischier carried the Mooseheads on his back to the postseason. “He was on a bit of a weaker team that probably wasn’t expected to do much, and he was a big reason why they were able to make the playoffs.”
Patrick, meanwhile, started the year as basically the consensus No. 1. TSN’s Bob McKenzie even called this the “Nolan Patrick Draft” a year ago. But this season, Patrick was plagued with injuries, including a sports hernia, limiting his play. Scouts have said that in the 33 games he did play, he didn’t look as dominant as the season prior.
2015-2016 was a landmark year for Patrick, who collected 41 goals and 102 points and a plus-51 in 72 regular season games, with 30 points in 21 games in the playoffs. That’s 1.42 points a game.
In 33 games this past year, Nolan still potted 46 points, good for 1.39 points a game.
So, while it may not be enough for “Team Patrick” to panic, “Team Hischier” optically skyrocketed this season by sheer numbers.
Both Patrick and Hischier hail from from a family of athletes:
Nico’s father, Rino, played soccer for FC Naters in Switzerland. His mother, was a swimmer and now teaches sports. Nico has two siblings, an older sister who plays volleyball and older brother who plays pro hockey in Switzerland.
Patrick has a similar setup in his family, with more NHL connections. When he stands on stage on Friday, either as the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, he will become the highest drafted member of the Patrick family. Which is impressive, because there are a few 1st round selections in the family.
Father Steve Patrick was selected 20th overall in 1980 by the Buffalo Sabres.
Uncle Rich Chernomaz went 26th in 1981 by the Colorado Rockies.
Uncle James Patrick went 9th overall to the New York Rangers in 1981 and played 1,280 games in the NHL.
The athletics in the family doesn’t stop there, though. Both his sisters play hockey, his mother played Volleyball for Team Canada and his grandfather, Stephen Patrick, played football in the CFL for the Winnipeg Bluebombers and was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
It seems like both were born to be athletes. For the NHL connections alone, you have to give the slight edge here to Nolan.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA
Patrick wins this one simply because he’s busier on social media. Fans will feel they know more about Patrick through his posts than Hischier. Not to say Hischier isn’t active, but most of his posts are about his team and teammates. Patrick’s is a little more rounded out. Now we know he’s a Golden State Warriors fan and is looking forward to Mayweather vs McGregor.
Plus, Hischier’s Insragram account is private. What gives? Now how are we supposed to know what Nico Hischier ate for breakfast? Oh, the FOMO…
But hey, their social media volume may change (higher or lower) when they both play in the NHL.
THE NHL PRAISE
Aside from having a father and two uncles who played in the NHL, Patrick played with John Quenneville on the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Devil is rooting for his former linemate to join him in Jersey, too.
Seriously Devils fans, watch this and tell me afterwards you don’t have “Quenneville to Patrick SCORES!!!!” stuck in your head all day
Nico Hischier got his first big break in professional hockey from Guy Boucher, then coach of SC Bern, now coach of the Ottawa Senators.
Boucher has a lot of praise for his former player: “He manages the game like an adult, like a man. Great vision, great poise. But he’s always in the right place defensively too, which puts him ahead of a lot of young guys – they rarely have both sides of the ice figured out, especially at that age.”
That’s high praise coming from a coach. Tandems are a big name of the game in today’s NHL, but they don’t always work out. But it’s interesting to daydream about it, right Devils fans? Tough call here. Do you go with player familiarity or direct coach endorsement?
ADVANTAGE: PATRICK, BY A HAIR (GET IT? BECAUSE HISCHIER WON THE HAIR CATEGORY, BUT NOW PATRICK WON THIS CATEGORY BY A HAIR … NEVER MIND.)
Both have a different set of adjustments to make: For Patrick, it was recovering from injury (he has had a series of injuries in the last several years) and being declared 100% fit at the draft combine.
For Hischier, it was adjusting to a whole new life. Nico left his home country Switzerland, friends and family behind to make it in the NHL, via the CHL route. He landed in Halifax, and some even thought maybe he would struggle with the smaller North American ice surface. But instead, he excelled, having the best hockey season of his life, carrying his Mooseheads team to the playoffs and leading Switzerland to the Quartfinals of a major junior tournament. Not a bad year to have when you’re chasing the dream.
Patrick loves to fish and enjoys golf. I omit this because really, every single hockey player in the universe likes to fish and play golf. When recovering from injury, Patrick developed an affinity for Paddle Ball. Really. The table tennis paddle with a rubber ball with a string attached. How amazing is that. Bonus points for getting hooked on that instead of any game at all on your phone.
Hischier, meanwhile, passes the time of long bus trips to away games with a Nintendo 3DS.
— Nico Hischier (@nicohischier) February 8, 2017
I’m going personal bias on this one. Nintendo games have personally brought me countless hours of joy, while I would get bored of a paddle ball after 3 minutes.
Nolan Patrick, born on September 19, 1998 actually missed the 2016 draft by four days.
Nico Hischier was born on January 4, 1999.
If you subscribe to this study, then players with birthdays in the first three months of the year typically have longer and more fruitful careers than those with birthdays in the final three (or, for the purposes of this comparison, four).
The other way to look at it is that, because Patrick missed out on the 2016 draft year, he’s actually among the oldest eligible players for the 2017 draft, with up to a year of more physical/mental maturity vs players born in August or September of 1999, a whole 11-12 months later.
ADVANTAGE: SCIENCE, I GUESS
Both Patrick and Hischier have exclusive signed trading card endorsement deals with Leaf Trading Cards.
— Cardboard Connection (@sportscards) May 19, 2017
Jack Eichel and 2018 prospect Joe Veleno also have this deal.
This means that even if they crack their respective NHL rosters and they get, say an Upper Deck trading card, Leaf will be the only brand to come authentically signed by the player.
Side note: endorsement deals at 17. Man…
This probably won’t be a factor because if all goes according to plan (and of course, 100% of the time it does), then both Hischier and Patrick will be playing in the NHL come the fall.
But, hypothetically, let’s say that doesn’t happen. In this particular scenario, Hischier would be a more appealing choice, because the rules allow Hischier to play in his chosen team’s AHL affiliate, while Patrick would not be allowed to play in the AHL and would go back to the WHL for another season.
ADVANTAGE (IF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENS): HISCHIER
So basically, this entire article was to say that we don’t have a clear cut winner either. Friday will be fun… See you at the Draft Party!
P.S. Anybody else find it kinda funny that Nolan Patrick interviewed with 13 teams at the combine, but NBA top prospect Lonzo Ball (Read: His father LaVar Ball) wouldn’t talk to any team but the Lakers (this eased up a bit though)?