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’s currently listed at 15th overall in Jeff Marek’s draft prospects rankings. Over the next couple months, we’ll join Hague for a workout, he’ll teach us to wire a one-timer from the point, and he’ll fill us in on what it’s like to gear up for the NHL Combine.
In Chapter 2, we get an inside look at Hague’s meetings with NHL team’s scouts.
MISSISSAUGA—Nic Hague’s nerves were going the first time he sat down for a 20-minute interview with a representative from an NHL club.
“You don’t want to mess up,” says the 6-foot-5 Steelheads defenceman, who grew up in nearby Kitchener.
What happened during that first meeting, though, came as a bit of a surprise to Hague, who ranks fourth overall in goals among defencemen in the OHL this season.
“A lot of the questions are not even hockey-related,” he says.
No, they were geared toward finding out about his family, his childhood, and what he likes to do outside of hockey.
“I even had one team say: ‘I’ve seen you play. I want to get to know you as a person,’” Hague says. “The scout said, ‘I wanna see if you’d be a guy I’d wanna have on my team.’”
Well, is he?
“He didn’t tell me,” Hague says, grinning, long legs folded in front of him in a seat in the stands at the Hershey Centre, where he’s dressed in blue pants, matching Converse sneakers, and a team-issued long-sleeved shirt ahead of the day’s practice. “But I thought we had a pretty good meeting.”
It’s a safe assumption for the well-spoken kid who was the OHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year in 2016, and who’s taking a business course at the University of Toronto this year. Hague figures he’s had meetings with representatives from 20 NHL teams so far, though not yet with his favourite team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. (He says that would “kind of be a dream come true.”)
Steelheads coach James Richmond had a 30-minute chat with one NHL team’s scout last week about Hague, and the scout’s main concern was he couldn’t find any “holes” when it came to the big D-man.
“He said to me, ‘This guy has everything you look for, and we’re trying to find the holes, and you gotta give me something—has anything happened off the ice?’” Richmond says.
The coach just laughed, and shook his head, no. “He’s a mature kid who conducts himself like a pro,” Richmond says.
Hague has gotten pretty pro at those interviews with scouts, too.
“I’ve realized with the sit-down meetings, you just be yourself. I feel like if you try to force an answer, what they wanna hear, it’s gonna come off the wrong way,” Hague says. “Some teams are harder to talk to than others, and some teams are pretty chill, you can sit down and have a good conversation with the guy.”
The questions he gets are largely the same. Hague could conduct the interview himself, by now.
“What are your strengths as a player, weaknesses as a player, those are always the hockey questions—who do you model your game after at the next level,” he says. “Away from that, your hobbies, interests, what you do away from the rink.
“They always ask about your family, if you have any siblings, what my parents do. Growing up in Kitchener seems to always get brought up, that I watched the Rangers.
“They’ll ask me three words to describe myself, if we asked your teammates to describe you, what would they say. Stuff like that.”
Hague has his answers ready to go.
The three words to describe him: “Good character, a leader, and I usually say I’m funny,” he says, grinning.
His strengths: His shot, his vision on the ice, “and obviously, defending hard,” he says. “When I play a game I really pride myself on not getting beat.”
His weakness, he says, is his skating. “That’s been the main focus of my training for the last two years, something that I focus on day in, day out…My agility, my shiftiness, keeping up with little guys in the corners.”
Talking about this stuff with scouts is a lot more fun these days, too, he points out, now that his team is winning. At the start of December, the Steelheads were dead last in the OHL. But through January and February, Mississauga lost just three games in regulation, and they’re now in second place in the east, and with a playoff berth clinched.
“We’re playing with a bit of confidence, a bit of mojo—you can see it out on the ice,” says Hague.
Winning a championship is the goal, of course.
“I’m hoping we stay here until May, until the Memorial Cup,” he says. “I wanna be here as long as possible, not only because we’re playing hockey, but the more we’re playing, the more I’m gonna be watched. It’s just gonna help me come June.”
And while he may have kicked the nerves when it comes to talking to NHL team scouts, he’s not exactly relaxing at this point.
“I’m really nervous for the draft,” Hague says. “You never know what’s gonna happen. It’s a day that since the start of this year, I think about a lot—it’s hard not to.”
Well, Hague, there’s only 108 days to go.