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Combine a positive experience for top prospects

Patrick, Hischier get to know one another before Draft

by Mitchell Clinton @MClinton007 /

The NHL Combine can be a long week for prospects.

The beginning of the week is spent going from team to team inside KeyBank Center, and answering questions from management and scouts from the NHL teams.

But Nico Hischier, the second-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, doesn't mind one bit.

"It's a great experience here this week. It's a lot of fun and you have it once in a lifetime," said Hischier on Friday. "For sure I was a little bit nervous the first couple of interviews. But then you get into a routine."

Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said one prospect the team spoke to had interviews set up with a total of eight teams, while another had all 31 clubs on his schedule.

"It's been a long week, I'll tell you that for sure. It's pretty tiring," said Gabriel Vilardi, fresh off winning the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires on Sunday. "It's been great being here meeting all the teams, it's been a lot of fun."

For Nolan Patrick - the top ranked North American skater - just being able to take part in the fitness testing component of the Combine is an achievement.

Patrick played through a sports hernia to help the Brandon Wheat Kings win their first WHL title in 20 years in 2016. He had surgery in July following that season, and made it back in time for the start of the 2016-17 season. Five games later, he was out for 35 games with an upper-body injury.

He was limited to 33 games this season, but still managed to record 20 goals and 46 points. The injuries kept coming though, as he missed Brandon's four playoff games with a lower-body injury.

So when he was cleared for fitness testing on Wednesday, the 18-year-old was happy.

"I have a bit of a ways to go before I'm 100 per cent healthy," Patrick admitted. "For me I wanted to take part in everything. It's a one time experience coming here, so I wanted to do it all."

The other benefit of being at the Combine has been meeting Hischier, who played with Halifax in the QMJHL this season.

"I got to know him pretty good here. He's obviously ranked where he is for a reason," said Patrick. "It's good to see that he's a real good guy too. It's been fun hanging out with him."

Ditto, says Hischier.

"Obviously Nolan Patrick is a really good player," Hischier said, adding he'll be happy regardless of what franchise selects him. "It's always what the team (wants) I just know at the end I'm going to be happy. It doesn't matter how it comes. I'm just going to be happy."

The right-winger will also make history if he's chosen higher than fifth overall. That would make him the highest drafted player from Switzerland since Nino Niederreiter in 2010.

"To make history for Switzerland, that's an honour. It makes me feel proud a little bit for sure," said Hischier, who played his first season in North America in 2016-17, scoring 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games. "The main reason I came over was I wanted to be a better hockey player and have team success. I knew there were more scouts and all that, but the main reason was to be a better hockey player."

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