New Jersey Devils face choice at 1st: Nolan or Nico?
In just over two weeks, the New Jersey Devils are officially on the clock. On June 23rd, both Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier will hear their names in the 2017 NHL Draft.
It is unknown, however, where they will start their NHL careers.
The Devils, who received a gift from the angels in the first overall pick, will certainly choose one of them. The team hasn’t tipped their hand, leading to intense speculation about who goes to the Garden State. It depends on what the Devils value more: the better player or the better fit.
What the Devils Need
All in all, the New Jersey Devils were terrible on both sides of the puck. They were 28th in the league in goals per game and in the bottom ten in goals allowed per game. Only the Vancouver Canucks had fewer shots per game. Their offense and defense were disappointing, and Cory Schneider struggled in net as a result.
Individually on the offensive side, their top line produced very well. Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri showed good chemistry in their first year playing together. The only problem was that they were the only consistent line. Head Coach John Hynes had to shuffle the lineups to provide depth to the team, and it did not always lead to better results.
In their overall production, the Devils got the least offensive production from left wingers, accounting for just 38 of the team’s 180 goals. However, neither Patrick nor Hischier are left wingers, and there isn’t a left winger worthy of the top pick. The Devils want to play younger guys like Miles Wood and Blake Pietila, so team needs are probably not the priority, especially with the first pick. The best player available is what the Devils should look for. So who is that?
The Case for Nolan Patrick
Even before the season, many considered Nolan Patrick the top pick. In 72 games for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015-16, Patrick tallied 41 goals and 102 points. He eventually won MVP in the WHL postseason and captured the Ed Chenowyth Cup. TSN’s Bob McKenzie once called this the “Nolan Patrick Draft”, putting him on a similar level to how many viewed Auston Matthews last season.
His play from two seasons ago was impressive, and when he played this past year, he showed flashes with 46 points in 33 games. However, he missed most of the season with a sports hernia in his right groin and an upper-body injury. At the NHL combine last week, he revealed that he had another hernia in his left side. He had surgery for both. Sports hernia injuries aren’t historically kind to NHL players. Washington’s Karl Alzner struggled this season after repairing his torn groin last offseason. Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere of the Flyers have dealt with recurring issues from sports hernia surgery. Patrick has the talent, but his injury history has to have the Devils concerned.
With all that said, Patrick at his best is a good fit for New Jersey in more ways than one. He’s a big body center at 6-foot-3. His speed complements a Devils team that doesn’t have much of it. Ultimately, what stands out is his two-way ability. He is exceptional in protecting the puck with his hands and has excellent strength to find it too. The Devils need help in multiple units and they don’t have many two-way forwards. He fills multiple areas for New Jersey.
The Case for Nico Hischier
Nolan Patrick was on everyone’s radar for a while. Nico Hischier hasn’t, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of the top pick. The Halifax Moosehead was tenth in the QMJHL with 86 points and seventh with 38 goals. He has U-18 World Juniors experience with Switzerland and played well in the tournament with four points in five games. He’s smaller than Patrick at 6-feet, but he plays both at center and on the right wing. Scouts and hockey personalities rave about his dynamic speed and puck-handling ability and claim he is the more explosive pick.
There are few concerns about Hischier, with most of them about his size. He is younger than Patrick and only recently graduated to North American hockey at Halifax. He’s had small run-ins with injuries, but not as much as Patrick. Jeff Marek of Sprotsnet said back in March that he played a bit differently after returning from an injury and there are worries about his energy. The question is if he can continue jumping to a higher level. With his talent, he should immediately contribute to an NHL team. He needs to make the adjustments necessary to play against bigger competition and more skilled players.
With that said, there is little doubt he can do just that. He’s shifty and a tremendous playmaker who gets his teammates involved just as much as he does. His passing and his instincts will strengthen his linemates. He’s young, but he can help Wood and Nick Lappin or other linemates. If he plays on the wing, then Pavel Zacha and John Quenneville could benefit too. In the same way Patrick aids multiple units, Hischier betters the team.
Who Fits Better?
At this point in time, it’s a smart choice no matter which player the New Jersey Devils pick. General Manager Ray Shero has to decide who will turn out to be the franchise leader. At the combine last week, Hischier tested higher in four of the five batteries, but those numbers shouldn’t be the entire indicator. Patrick is the better goal scorer and excels in more areas than Hischier, but Nico has more quickness and skill on his resumé. Don’t be surprised, however, if injuries are the biggest factor. If Shero wants to take the risk, then he should select Nolan Patrick.
Feature image courtesy of TSN. Nico Hischier on the left and Nolan Patrick on the right.
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