Brandon center Nolan Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier have been considered all season the top two players available for the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas.
Patrick (6-foot-2, 198 pounds), No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, missed the cut for the 2016 draft by four days and many believe he would have been a top-five pick had he been eligible. Injuries limited him to 33 games this season but he had 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) and ranked 10th in the WHL with 1.39 points per game.
Patrick's strength is his hockey sense and ability to think two to three strides ahead of everyone else.
Patrick was medically cleared to perform all the testing at the NHL Scouting Combine on June 2-3 in Buffalo and believes he'll be 100 percent healthy entering NHL training camp in September. He had surgery in July to repair a sports hernia on his left side, and revealed at the combine that doctors missed another hernia on his right side, which was healed by way of therapeutic measures.
Hischier (6-1, 178), No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had an exceptional start as a rookie in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and continued his rapid ascent up the prospect ladder with an extraordinary effort at the IIHF 2017 World Junior Championship, where he scored seven points (four goals, three assists) in five games.
Hischier's strength is his skating and ability to create a quality scoring chance when there doesn't appear to be any available. He was awarded the Michael Bossy Trophy (Best Professional Prospect), and Michel Bergeron Trophy (Offensive Rookie of the Year) in the QMJHL after scoring 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 57 games.
In a poll conducted by NHL.com of 14 NHL scouts, Patrick came away with a 9-5 advantage.
Video: Debating who should go first overall in the draft
Craig Button, TSN resident director of scouting, NHL analyst and former NHL general manager, favors Hischier.
"Just because he has a bit of an edge in dynamic ability," Button said. "The comparison I've used for Hischier is Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit Red Wings) and the comparison for Patrick is Eric Staal (Minnesota Wild). They've both won the Stanley Cup, were each captains of their teams and won international gold medals, so that shows you how close they are."
NHL.com sought the opinion of NHL evaluators who have watched Patrick and Hischier this season. They promised honesty in exchange for anonymity.
In favor of Nolan Patrick
"We didn't see the best of Nolan all year because of his injury issues. There's a history there and we're in the projection business and I think he's going to turn things right back to where he was. I learned a lot about him this year, his toughness and competitiveness. You always knew he was strong, good in the corners and had all kinds of skills to make plays, but he learned he could battle adversity. If one part of his game was not there, there are other parts that came out that we didn't see and that's being physical, stepping up and taking the body. When his feet weren't there yet because of conditioning reasons, he still found ways to make an impact and produced a ton of points."
"I go Patrick because it's hard to find those centers who can kind of do everything. He's big, skilled, makes plays and is tough. Finding a good center really solidifies a line. I think Hischier is a hybrid winger; that big center is so important. You can't stop size and strength. You can shut down a smaller forward with a bigger defenseman and a good defensive system. I'll take the bigger guy in Patrick."
"Patrick brings that element, that toughness. He's hard to play against and is a two-way center who can score. His skating is probably his weakness right now and the first thing he'll admit, but he's going to be a heck of a player. If I'm getting Hischier in the draft, I'm excited. But I still think that right-shot, big strong center, is too hard to pass up at No. 1."
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In favor of Nico Hischier
"His high-end skill, high-end speed, brain; he just makes the game easy for linemates."
"My prediction is that the better the teammates, the better Nico's qualities will shine. He has a high-end hockey brain, a perfect mix of being self-confident while still remaining humble. He grew over the last 24 months, and now has decent size. He will have a good, athletic hockey body pretty soon. It was no surprise for me that he adapted so fast to the major junior style of play because one of his very best qualities is his ability as a very fast and keen learner."
"We like his hockey sense better, seems like he can be more of an impact player than the other guy."