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Fantasy spin: Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick can make immediate impact

Devils draft high-caliber center; Flyers forward could also enter top six as rookie

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The 2017 NHL Draft has come and gone, finally revealing the landing spots for centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. Now, it's time to project who will provide more fantasy hockey value next season.

It was a bit of a surprise when Hischier was selected No. 1 by the New Jersey Devils ahead of Patrick, who went No. 2 to the Philadelphia Flyers. Hischier and Patrick, each 18 years old, have a very strong chance of making their respective NHL rosters out of training camp.

If that's the case, Hischier and Patrick could be well worth late-round fliers in a standard, 12-team fantasy league. Each is an even more appealing option in a dynasty or keeper format.

 

[RELATED: Hischier 'will make a difference,' Devils GM says | Complete Fantasy hockey coverage]

 

The Devils have lacked a player with the high-end skill and creativity of Hischier, who had 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 57 games for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season to lead all rookies. He was named Canadian Hockey League rookie of the year and was a standout for Switzerland at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship with seven points (four goals, three assists) in five games.

New Jersey hasn't had a player with the skill set of Hischier since forwards Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and the prime seasons of Devils all-time leading scorer Patrik Elias. General manager Ray Shero believes Hischier has what it takes to make the roster, but warns to temper expectations.

Tweet from @NHLFantasy: Which @NHL rookie will finish with the most points next season? https://t.co/Lv0plSVdfR

"There's a spot for him [on our team] and we'll go from there. We aren't putting the pressure on Nico to be [Connor] McDavid or Auston [Matthews] because those draft classes weren't the norm," Shero told NHL.com on Monday, referencing the No. 1 picks in the previous two drafts. "I'll say that he'll make a difference, but how quickly will be up to his development path. He has the type of instincts and skill set that we don't have in our organization. He's always had the ability to make players around him better, he's unselfish, and good defensively.

"We're excited and it's a heck of a piece to our team we never thought we'd have a chance to get at the end of the season [before winning NHL Draft Lottery on April 29]."

Video: NHL Tonight takes a look at the future of the Devils

Looking at the Devils' current forward group, it isn't crazy to think Hischier can slot in as either the first- or second-line center. This would give him the potential to play with scoring wings like Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, or even revitalize veteran left wing Michael Cammalleri.

Hischier also could slot in on the third line, perhaps playing with 2015 first-round pick Pavel Zacha and/or right wing Blake Speers on a potential "Kid Line." Considering Hischier's skill set, he would also be a lock to play on the power play, a unit that ranked 22nd (17.5%) in the NHL last season. Plus, the Devils have praised his defensive acumen, which will only help him make the roster and earn more playing time. Ultimately, the 40-50 point range seems likely for Hischier if he sticks with the Devils all season, though that would obviously be his ceiling.

Patrick, who many believed would go No. 1 to the Devils, instead landed with the Metropolitan Division rival Flyers, who may have been gift-wrapped their future top-line center.

Injuries have limited Patrick throughout his junior career with Brandon of the Western Hockey League, but they weren't enough to stop him from putting up gaudy numbers over the past three seasons. He has 205 points (92 goals, 113 assists) in 163 career WHL games and produced nearly a point per game in the playoffs with 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 49 games.

Philadelphia's depth chart is a lot like New Jersey's in that there is a glaring need for dynamic play-making ability at the center position. This isn't taking anything away from captain Claude Giroux, but the effects of hip surgery last offseason was clearly the reason he finished with his lowest point total (58) in a full NHL season since 2009-10 (47). Giroux will still be the first-line center if healthy, and Patrick could slot in on the second line.

Video: Nolan Patrick reacts to being 2nd overall

There's also a possibility the Flyers will move Patrick to wing in his rookie season. They traded Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for center Jori Lehtera on June 23. If Philadelphia believes Giroux, Lehtera and Sean Couturier are its best options at center, Patrick could play some wing to give the Flyers more scoring depth. Forward Jordan Weal, who could become an unrestricted free agent July 1, is a trendy sleeper pick that could also be factored into the top-nine group if he is retained by the Flyers.

Patrick, like Hischier, is an incredibly intelligent hockey player, so he could potentially be featured on both special teams units. For now, we'll put the Flyers offense ahead of the Devils, which gives the fantasy edge to Patrick. He'll definitely have a higher ceiling than his Swiss counterpart in the short term. Should Patrick stay healthy, he could reach the 50-60 point range with more upside on the power play.

 

[ RELATED: Patrick recovering from abdominal surgery, but expected to be ready for training camp ]

 

Other 2017 first-round picks who could make a fantasy impact sooner than later: Cody Glass (C, VGK; No. 6), Lias Andersson (C, NYR; No. 7), Timothy Liljegren (D, TOR; No. 17), Kristian Vesalainen (LW/RW, WPG; No. 24), Eeli Tolvanen (RW, NSH; No. 30)

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