Lots has been made of Swiss forward Nico Hischier in recent months, and for good reason. Coming over from Switzerland to play in the QMJHL as he looks to up his draft stock, the 18-year-old has emerged as a top prospect for the upcoming draft in June.
The Hischier hype continued on Monday night when he had a goal and two assists for Team Orr in the CHL Prospects Game, earning player of the game honors as a result. Skating alongside Nikita Popugaev and Kailer Yamamoto for much of the night, Hischier controlled pace of the game while making a number of standout plays.
Many left Quebec City with the same impression – has Hischier cracked Nolan Patrick’s perch as the presumptive first overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft?
Patrick, of course, has been limited to 11 games this season for the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings due to a groin injury. The injury caused him to miss the 2017 World Junior Championships, where Hischier shined playing for Switzerland.
In 40 games for Halifax this season, Hischier has 33 goals and 68 points in 40 games. He’s up to No. 2 on TSN’s mid-season draft rankings released on Tuesday, surpassing Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren, who had been the projected first pick after Patrick prior to Hischier’s ascent.
While Hischier has closed the gap, it certainly seems as if Patrick remains the guy. While he missed much of the season’s first half with the groin injury, it hasn’t hurt his stock. If the injury did in fact lead to red flags, the scouts and experts have a strange way of showing it.
There’s no doubt Hischier can play. He’s quick, dynamic, has a heavy dose of creativity in his game. His breakaway speed showed on his lone goal Monday, a breakaway chance on a stretch pass from Popugaev. He set up a number of opportunities for him Team Orr ‘mates, including finishes by Yamamoto and Stelio Mattheos.
While Patrick may have been outplayed, he wasn’t far behind. He had a pair of assists on the night, setting up goals for Maxime Comtois and Owen Tippett. As he gets his feet under him more and more after missing three months, he’ll continue to get better.
Is it 1-1A between Patrick and Hischer? No, or not yet, at least. Will both be good NHL players? Obviously forecasting kids is no exact science, but there’s certainly the suggestion of that.
But Patrick’s place is more established, the injury hasn’t done any harm to his draft stock. So while Hischier has come on strong, don’t expect Patrick to be the one whose name isn’t called first on June 23rd.
Other minor thoughts
*The line I came away really impressed with was the Isaac Ratcliffe-MacKenzie Entwistle-Ivan Lodina line for Team Cherry. The trio really did a good job controlling the puck, pushing possession in their favor, and creating opportunities for themselves in the attacking zone.
*Ratcliffe is a name to best not forget. He’s a towering 6-6 to go along with a 195-point frame that will fill out over time. He’s a big body around the net and has incredible reach. He has 22 goals in 47 games for Guelph in the OHL.
*Between Ratcliffe and Nate Schnarr, who had a good game in his own right, Guelph is set up pretty nicely for next year, provided both return, which is likely the case.
*This was the best single-man effort of the night right here. Ottawa 67 Sasha Chmelevski absolutely toyed around with Artyom Minulin – no little guy himself at 6-2, 202 pounds – before beating Alex D’Orio with a top-shelf snipe just over his left shoulder.
*Matteos was another player I came away really impressed with. Creative player, really good playmaker. Showed his finishing ability on his goal with 1:50 to play in the third period.
*What a shot by Yamamoto. Not a big guy at 5-9, 160 pounds but can find the net. He has 30 goals this season in 43 games for WHL Spokane after burying a combined 44 in his first two seasons in the WHL. He has 191 points in 168 WHL games, and should be a mid-to-late first rounder in June.
*Speaking of finishing, what a player Owen Tippett is. He has 36 goals for OHL Mississauga this season, which is second in the OHL to Erie Otter and Chicago prospect Alex DeBrincat, who has 38 goals. A likely top-five pick, Tippett has drawn comparisons to Steven Stamkos and has an absolute rocket for a shot.
*Expected to see more out of Matthew Strome, who didn’t record a point on Monday. The performance won’t hurt him – underwhelming performances in the prospects game didn’t hurt his two brothers, who were both top-five picks in their respective drafts. A 6-3, 203-pound forward, Strome has 26 goals and 42 points in 45 games for OHL Hamilton this season.
*Goalie of the night goes to WHL Lethbridge netminder Stuart Skinner, who stopped 17 of 18 shots for Team Cherry. Michael DiPietro, representing OHL Windsor and the best of the four goalies on the ice, stopped 14 of 16 shots for Team Orr.
*In the NCAA ranks, Minnesota-Duluth is back atop the USCHO.com poll. The Bulldogs are 17-5-4 and winners of five straight, with a pair of wins over St. Cloud State and North Dakota while also beating Minnesota. Not bad for the resume. Nebraska-Omaha, one of the best among the unranked, comes in this weekend, so expect more talk of the Top Ranking Jinx.
*Union is up to No. 4 in the poll. The Dutchmen are led by the top two scorers in the nation in Mike Vecchione (44 points) and Spencer Foo (43).
*Wisconsin leads the women’s poll, receiving a unanimous 15 first-place votes for the fifth straight week.
*Regina remains the top team in the CHL poll.
*Lastly, here’s a junior hockey podcast that covers anything and everything junior hockey, from the CHL all the way down to the Junior ‘A’ leagues. The MasterCard Junior Hockey Magazine, more than worth the listen.