For the first time in a long time it looks like we have a real two-horse race as far as which player is selected first overall at the NHL Draft in June.
Nolan Patrick has held the distinction as the best available player for a while. He had already played two seasons in the WHL prior to his draft year, so there was plenty of exposure to him. And he, obviously, had some great performances and was named MVP of the WHL Playoffs last season, when his Brandon Wheat Kings won the title.
But here comes Swiss centre Nico Hischier, who has been making a swift charge up the draft rankings ever since a breakout performance at the World Junior Championship. He played in all the major international events and has the advantage of being healthy all season, whereas Patrick missed a large chunk of the regular season and Brandon’s first-round playoff exit.
What do the teams say about this race? The 2017 NHL Draft Lottery was held Saturday in Toronto and prior to unveiling the winners, various team representatives stopped by for a Facebook Live chat with Sportsnet’s John Shannon. The reps were asked about a variety of topics relative to their team, but each was asked, specifically, about the Hischier vs. Patrick decision.
Here are their thoughts:
Trevor Linden, Vancouver Canucks President
“Both are special players. I think Hischier obviously had a breakout world junior and continued that with a strong second half. Brings a unique combination of speed and skill, and he certainly plays in the hard areas, he’s determined. Patrick is a bigger two-way, does everything well type player. Challenging year for him being out for the first half and then missing the playoffs, but both guys are exciting so hopefully we have the opportunity.”
How his injuries effect how he’s viewed: “You gotta get your viewing when he’s playing and we certainly did. Given he was in the Western League we saw him a lot and so we feel we have a pretty good gauge on him. Obviously we have to do more digging on where he’s at health wise and what that looks like moving forward.”
Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg Jets General Manager
“I remember watching (Patrick) play junior back when he first started (in 2014-15) just to see how he controlled the game at that age. You had to sit back and wonder, man oh man he’s not draft able until ’17.
“I saw Nico Hischier player at the U-18 World Championship just recently. Two very good players that if you have the fortune of drafting one of them you’re going to be happy as an organization.”
John Chayka, Arizona Coyotes General Manager
“They’re both great players. Any organization would be lucky to have those guys. Nolan’s a big right-shot centreman, makes his teammates better. He’s good in all areas of the ice. He’s a true centreman I think. He had a great year last year, this year he had some injuries he dealt with, but overall a little bit of adversity’s not the worst thing in the world. Really excited about his game going into the NHL.
“Nico he’s a guy that’s gotten better for me all year. He just keeps getting better, whether it was (the WJC) challenge or the under-18 challenge at the end of the year there. Those aren’t the best teams he’s playing for and he made them better; he’s an important piece for those teams. He’s a good player, I like him a lot.”
Mike Futa, Los Angeles Kings Assistant General Manager
“I was just speaking about Patrick and this is a kid last year that caught everybody’s eye with having a brilliant season prior to his draft year. I think, again, if people can get over the fact that the last couple years what’s been produced in the top four picks — or two picks and two picks — we’re back to the reality of just excellent, excellent prospects. But these kids have a chance to be game-changers. I think Patrick this year has fallen on some tough injury time and you never want to see a kid have that many injures in his draft year, but when you think about the kind of character that comes out of the Brandon Wheat Kings program and the program that Kelly McCrimmon’s put together there, there’s no question this kid’s going to do the work and get back to where he needs to be.
“Nico has just proved he scores. He makes plays. He scored at all the international events. He’s put up huge numbers playing major junior hockey and he shows no signs about not going to the tough areas to score goals.”
Can these guys play in the NHL next season: “I personally don’t think so, but I guess it comes down to the situation you’re in. What we’re seeing now with the salary cap that some of these young guys, because of entry-level contracts, if you’re ready you’re going to get an opportunity. I think last year a lot of people… I think the London Knights probably thought a kid like (Matthew) Tkachuk was going to be back in their lineup. And we know first-hand he adapted well to the National Hockey League.”
Ray Shero, New Jersey Devils General Manager
“Yes please, I’ll take either. How’s that?
“They’re outstanding players and Nolan, he’s obviously with injuries this year, I think it’s been difficult, but everybody recognizes the talent he has and certainly hockey pedigree. And you see a kid from Switzerland with that kind of talent and you’re looking for centre icemen, but I think everybody in this position is not just looking for centre icemen, you’re looking for good players. And there are a number of good players here.
“Over the last couple of years you’ve had generational players and it’s nice to see them prove it on the ice and you see a kid like Auston Matthews get 44 goals this year, from Arizona, that’s fantastic. And obviously Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, all these guys.
“In those drafts everybody’s got 1-2 and then from three to 10 maybe everybody’s got a different list — I think everybody might have a different list from one to eight at this point.
“I can’t speak for other teams, I think, if we had the first overall pick, I think we have a pretty good idea, but again, I’d love to have that problem.”