What is it like to be a highly-touted prospect in your NHL Draft year? We’re going to find out.
Sportsnet is following Nic Hague, a 17-year-old defenceman with the Mississauga Steelheads who currently ranks 15th overall in Jeff Marek’s draft prospect rankings. Over the next several months, we’ll join Hague for an off-ice workout, he’ll teach us how to wire a one-timer from the point, and he might even convince his billet family to have us over for dinner. (Fingers crossed).
In Chapter 1, we get into what makes Hague such a sought-after prospect.
Follow Jeff Marek’s 2017 NHL Draft Rankings all season.
MISSISSAUGA – Let’s get this out of the way and address the elephant in the room when it comes to Nic Hague: He’s very tall. Hague measures six-foot-five-and-a-half, and six-foot-nine on skates. The kid is a tower. You’ll have no trouble picking out his stick on the Steelheads stick rack: It’s the one that’s three inches taller than regulation. “I’d like to think I’m done growing,” the 17-year-old Kitchener native says, grinning.
Well, that’s definitely not something you expect to hear from a player hoping to crack an NHL lineup someday, but Hague is in a different boat. After growing steadily over the past few years, he’s just getting settled into his frame. The guy friends describe as “big, awkward and goofy” admits it takes time to get comfortable when you grow so tall so fast. “I’m still working on growing into that height, getting bigger and stronger,” Hague says.
He’s doing pretty well at this point. You’ll find Hague among the top 15 in many prospect rankings, he started both games for the OHL in the CIBC Canada-Russia Series in November, despite the fact he’s not what you’d call a flashy talent.
Hague is a pure defenceman whose strength is in his own end. He’s been known to punish guys in front of the net, and his first pass out of the zone is key to getting the Steelheads breakout going. “He’s not the guy like an Erik Karlsson or a P.K. Subban, one of those guys who fly up the ice and everybody goes ‘wow,’” says Steelheads coach, James Richmond. “He’s not gonna wow you as a fan of the game. But as a coach, he’s really gonna wow you. Because he does things the right way.”
Adds Richmond: “I don’t know if I’ve seen a better Canadian draft-eligible defenceman his age. He’s gotta be in the top two, anyway.”
That praise makes Hague raise his dark eyebrows. Had you told him that two or three years ago he’d be a top NHL prospect one day, he says, “I would say, ‘No way.’ This has happened quick.”
Hague played Jr. B as a 16-year-old, because the guy who won the OHL scholastic award last year figured he’d go the college route and take a scholarship to the U.S. But as he grew in stature he got his coordination back and improved his mobility, and decided he wanted to play in the OHL, “at the highest level possible,” he says.
And though he’s a defence-first blueliner, Hague boasts some solid offensive power. He has 20 points (9g, 11a) through 27 games, is third in goals among OHL D-men and recorded his first OHL hat-trick this season, a four-point night against Guelph. Hague is averaging more than three shots on net per game, too. “We’re asking him to shoot a lot because he’s got a pro-level shot,” Richmond says. “There’s no question about it. He’s got a quick release, it’s a heavy, heavy shot. You ask the goalies, it hurts. It’s hard to get traffic in front of the net in practice when Nic is shooting because if the forwards get hit with it, it stings.”
You’ll find Hague on the first power-play unit, wiring one-timers from the blueline. One-timers are his favourite.
Like many young players, Richmond says the one part of his game Hague needs to work on is consistency. “Some nights, he’s pretty good. Other nights, he’s great. That’s really the only thing. It’s not an easy task but he’s a mature kid for his age, and he’s come a long way.
“He’s obviously a top-end prospect, but he’ll be a real good pro.”
And despite the fact Hague is not going to wow you with an end-to-end rush, you’ll notice him out there, even if all the little things he’s doing aren’t easy to spot. “He’s never under the radar,” Richmond says. “He’s so tall, you can’t miss him.”