The scouting director of an NHL draft publication ranks center Nolan Patrick as this year’s best prospect, but he believes the New Jersey Devils will select center Nico Hischier with the first overall pick.
“I’ve looked at the draft history of Devils general manager Ray Shero,” said Ryan Wagman, who was including the GM’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins, “and he tends to take the dynamic talent. I think Patrick has a little more overall value, but Hischier is the more dynamic player.”
If the Devils select Hischier, that would leave Patrick for the Flyers with the No. 2 pick in Friday’s first round in Chicago.
The 6-foot-2, 199-pound Patrick “has everything,” said Wagman, who heads the scouting at McKeen’s Hockey. “He’s good all the way around — his skating, his shot, his puck skills. His hockey smarts, I wouldn’t say they’re off the charts, but they’re among the best you’re going to get in this draft. He understands the game.”
Physically, Wagman said, Patrick is “NHL-ready. It’s hard to beat him, physically, but he’s not going to go out of his way to impose on somebody else.”
Patrick dominated the Western Hockey League two years ago, collecting 102 points, including 41 goals, for Brandon. He had sports-hernia surgery after the season and claimed he had another sports hernia at the time that was misdiagnosed.
That contributed to an injury-plagued 2016-17-season in which he had 46 points, including 20 goals, in just 33 games.
In addition to the sports hernia, he was bothered by other injuries. But Patrick was cleared medically and participated in all events in the recent NHL scouting combine in Buffalo.
“Obviously he has to show that injuries are not going to be a recurring issue for him,” Wagman said. “Beyond that, he doesn’t have any weaknesses per se. It’s just showing he can do it at another level. Even though he missed a lot of this year because of injuries, his production was still very, very good. And, bear in mind, if he was four days older, he would have been eligible for the 2016 draft. If he was drafted there, he would have gone third overall,” behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. “That’s not an insult. I mean, Matthews and Laine are already high-end NHL players.”
Wagman compared Patrick to “a younger Eric Staal … someone who has good balance as far as being a playmaker and a scorer.”
The 6-4, 205-pound Staal, who scored 28 goals for Minnesota last season, was selected No. 2 overall by Carolina in the 2003 draft. He went straight to the Hurricanes and collected 11 points and 20 assists in his rookie season. Staal has had two seasons with 40 or more goals — he had 100 points in his second NHL campaign — and has had 11 seasons with more than 20 goals.
As for the 6-1, 179-pound Hischier, Wagman said he “needs to get bigger. Patrick already has NHL size.”
Wagman said Hischier has “dynamic puck skills. He’s a very good skater with a very good shot. His hockey IQ his also high, and he’s not a one-dimensional scorer. He plays a very responsible two-way game.”
Hischier’s biggest question is his size, though the center said he planned to work out and gain weight this summer.
“Hischier can be imposed upon (on the ice),” Wagman said. “We had a few scouts who saw him this year, and that was their feeling…The other thing I’ll say about Hischier is that he might not be a center down the road. He’s never been really good at faceoffs and part of that has to do with strength. I think he could eventually be more valuable letting someone do (faceoffs) and he can focus on retrieving the puck and doing something with it.”
It should be noted that Hischier, whom Wagman said reminds him of Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, did 13 consecutive pull-ups at the scouting combine, tied for the most among the 103 competitors.
Wagman said the Patrick/Hischier debate “is like comparing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Different styles of players. They’re both very valuable and high-end players, but they both play very different games. I don’t think Patrick is Jonathan Toews, or Hischier is Patrick Kane, but when you put them both together, it’s kind of like comparing those two” because of their styles.
“There’s no wrong answer. Whichever way the Devils go, the Flyers will just take what is left,” he added.
Wagman believes it’s almost definite Patrick will play in the NHL in 2017-18, and that there’s an 80 percent chance Hischier is ready. He said that skill-wise, Hischier, who had 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games last season for Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, can play right away in the NHL.
If Hischier is used wisely by his coach — and placed with a big winger, who protects him — he should stay in the league this season, Wagman said.
Wagman said there was a “distinctive” drop to the third overall pick, and he would be “astounded if anyone other than Patrick and Hischier went one or two.”
His publication ranks Finnish defenseman Miro Heiskanen as the draft’s No. 3 prospect. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the guys ranked third through sixth went in any order” in that four-player grouping, Wagman said.