With no Memorial Cup game on the docket Saturday, the CHL turned its attention to its annual awards celebration. Many of junior's top players earned accolades, from Thomas Chabot to Alex DeBrincat. But two other winners are just stepping into the searing spotlight: Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, the top prospects for the 2017 draft.
Patrick won the CHL’s Top Prospect Award, while Hischier took home Rookie of the Year honors. Both players will soon head to Buffalo for the NHL’s draft combine, where the scrutiny will kick into high gear and remain there until the first picks are officially made in Chicago on June 23.
And while Patrick and Hischier have been at the top of the board for months now (Patrick has actually been there since last season), the draft lottery drawing has really put things into focus. Now we know that New Jersey has the top pick, while Philadelphia won the second selection overall. It’s starting to get real, isn’t it?
“It’s a little more exciting knowing who is going to pick where,” Patrick said. “I’m not in any rush to get it over with; I’m excited and I’m going to enjoy the experience.”
Patrick has already met with several NHL franchises for chats, while Hischier, the presumed No. 2 right now, sat down with the Flyers recently. Thanks to Hischier’s breakout season with the Halifax Mooseheads and Patrick’s pedigree and two-way excellence, the favored prospect of the Devils is still unknown. New Jersey needs to hit on this lucky opportunity and doing due diligence on both players – particularly regarding Patrick’s injury history – will be a priority until GM Ray Shero and crew walk up the stage steps in Chicago.
For Patrick, New Jersey and Philadelphia both offer comfort. The Devils have former Wheat Kings teammate John Quenneville, while the Flyers have their own recent Brandon alum in defenseman Ivan Provorov. Patrick has texted with both players since the lottery.
Meanwhile, Hischier can make history even if he does not usurp Patrick for the No. 1 slot. As long as something catastrophic doesn’t happen, the electric Mooseheads star will become the highest-drafted Swiss national ever, eclipsing Nino Niederreiter who went fifth overall in 2010. The buzz about this is building back in Switzerland.
“When I came back, I had a lot of media,” Hischier said. “It’s an honor for me if I’m the highest pick ever. I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough to all the guys who supported me.”
Hischier’s season couldn’t have gone much better. He turned a preternaturally young Halifax squad into a tough playoff out, while lifting up Switzerland at the world juniors. He played at the world under-18s once the Mooseheads were finished and could have played at the World Championship after that, but opted to take time off to rest his weary body.
“It was really important,” Hischier said. “I had a couple of days away from Switzerland, on the beach relaxing. It felt really great to fill my tank.”
The nifty pivot will spend his summer getting bigger and stronger off the ice, while trying to get faster on it. And he wants to improve his shot.
Patrick also took some time off to get healthy. His season was ravaged by injuries and the most important update right now is that he is planning on doing all the physical tests at the draft combine – which is a great sign, because they are taxing.
Though Hischier and Patrick don’t know each other too well yet, it goes without saying that the two centers will be spending a lot of time together in the coming month. From the combine in Buffalo to the draft in Chicago, there will be photo ops, media scrums and probably a lot of sitting around waiting for obligations to happen. The Devils and Flyers will also try to get down to the core of these teens as far as they can, because the final decisions will have huge ramifications down the road.