Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2017 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Mississauga defenseman Nicolas Hague grew up a big fan of the Kitchener Rangers.
Born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, Hague understandably followed his hometown team. He fondly recalls the days when he and his father had season tickets to Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, where they'd root for the Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
"I followed the Rangers as a kid and, and up until the year I started playing for Mississauga (2015-16), I was still going to the games," Hague said.
Hague played for the Kitchener Jr. Rangers for two seasons and the Kitchener Dutchmen of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League before settling in with Mississauga.
His shift in allegiance was made official at the 2014 OHL draft when Mississauga selected him in the second round (No. 29). Now his family has a vested interest in Mississauga and their son. Hague is No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft.
"It's still cool to be playing against Kitchener and it's always special when we go back to the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium," Hague said. "We only go once a year but it's probably one of my favorite games to play in."
The 6-foot-5, 206-pound left-handed shot is making his mark in his second season with Mississauga.
"He brings an offensive dimension to his game," Hockey Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski said. "He's also effective in a shutdown role with that range, reach and the size he has. He's growing into his body and growing into his ability. I feel he's more than your typical huge physical defenseman; he's a guy who moves the puck very well and brings an offensive component to his game."
Hague played for Team OHL against Russia in the 2016 Canada Russia Series on Nov. 10 in North Bay, Ontario, and Nov 14 in Hamilton, Ontario. He also played for Team Bobby Orr in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City on Jan. 30.
The highlight of the season was scoring his first career hat trick with Mississauga in a victory against Guelph on Oct. 12, 2016.
"After scoring the third one in the third period, I came back to the bench and my coach said to me, 'Yeah, I taught you how to shoot like that,' " Hague said.
Hague has set career highs in the OHL this season with 15 goals, 22 assists and 37 points in 54 games.
"At the beginning of the season I wanted to make sure I was contributing every night and trying to help my team win," Hague said. "If I can do that and kind of put my best foot forward every night, that's really all I can control.
"I think my shot is one of my biggest strengths. I also like to be that second layer that kind of jumps up late or be there for a big rebound."
Matt Ryan of NHL Central Scouting has been evaluating Hague the past two seasons and believes he'll be a solid professional.
"He's a big defenseman who is a fluid skater," Ryan said. "He moves the puck extremely well, creating a ton of offense. He shows an ability to run the power play and has an excellent shot that he gets through with consistency."
Hague was a big fan of Kitchener defenseman Dan Kelly, who served as captain for Rangers for two seasons before signing a free-agent contract with the New Jersey Devils on May 19, 2010. He was signed to a one-year contract by the San Jose Sharks on July 11 after playing six seasons with Albany of the American Hockey League.
Kelly played for current Sharks coach Peter DeBoer and assistant coach Steve Spott to help Kitchener to an OHL championship in 2008.
"He was always a guy I looked up to; it's funny because he lives in Kitchener in the summer and comes back and now he's one of the guys I train with," Hague said. "I'm on the ice and in the gym with him. That's kind of cool because he was a role model for me growing up and now I'm in the gym with him every day."
At the NHL level, Hague follows Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber.
"I kind of like to chip in at both ends of the ice and I think that's something Weber does really well," he said. "He's out there every night making a difference and doing the little things, and that's the type of defenseman I want to be."