Nico vs Nolan: Who’s #1? TSN’s Bob MacKenzie weighs in
TSN’s Bob MacKenzie has given his input on the race between Mooseheads rookie Nico Hischier and Brandon Wheat Kings star Nolan Patrick to become the number one overall draft pick in this June’s NHL Entry Draft. The TSN hockey insider says eight of 10 NHL scouts polled on the subject feel Patrick will be the top pick in the draft.
“You can’t rule it out,” one scout said. “Hischier has been so dynamic in Halifax this season. He’s very quick. The numbers he’s putting up with a team no one expected to be very good this season are eye-opening and his play at the world junior championship wasn’t just good, it was great.”
Hischier wasn’t just the best draft-eligible prospect at the world juniors; he was one of the top players in the tournament, scoring four goals and seven points in five games for Switzerland.
The fact Hischier is even raising the spectre of a competition is really quite remarkable.
In September’s TSN Pre-Season NHL Draft Rankings, Hischier wasn’t ranked in the Top 15. Had there been a No. 16 published, it would have been Hischier. Certainly in recent memory, there hasn’t been a prospect outside of the Top 10 or Top 15 in September who moved up to the top two to create a race for No. 1 at mid-season. Patrick, by the way, was 10 for 10 in No. 1 votes in preseason balloting.
How did this happen?
It’s not as if scouts didn’t know who Hischier was. He first rose to some level of prominence at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka U-18 tourney. He scored three goals and six points in four games as an underage player at that event. He played reasonably well in Switzerland in the 2015-16 season but gave no indication he was possibly elite. He was slight of build that season and playing big-ice hockey against weaker level of competition. There wasn’t a strong feeling he was something special.
At the 2016 Hlinka last summer, Hischier took a step back. He didn’t play particularly well, with one goal and two points in three games for a weak Swiss team.
After a bit of a slow start in Halifax (0-3-3 in his first five games), he caught fire and has rocketed up the charts. He has 33 goals and 68 points in 40 QMJHL games.
“He wasn’t the biggest kid before and he most certainly has grown and filled out,” a scout said. “He’s much stronger than he was. He’s extremely difficult to take off the puck.”
Hischier is now listed at 6-foot-1, 176 pounds.
One of the two scouts who put Hischier ahead of Patrick in TSN’s mid-season balloting did so for a variety of reasons.
“No one’s smarter [in this draft],” the scout said. “His hockey sense is really good, his overall compete level and two-way game, I think, is better. He’s more dynamic [than Patrick]. It’s not a case of not liking Patrick; he’s a good player and he’s going to be a good NHL player. I just like Hischier better.”
The other scout who took Hischier over Patrick noted the Swiss player’s ability to get inside and to the net to make plays.
It remains to be seen whether Hischier can chip away at that gap between now and the end of the season. Some of those who voted Patrick No. 1 are intrigued by Hischier, but big, point-producing centres are tough to knock off, too.
What’s indisputable, though, is Patrick and Hischier are a clear level above the rest of their draft class.
Outside of the top two prospects, this year’s draft is highly unpredictable, even in the Top 10.