Kris Baker is once again counting down his list of top prospects available in the NHL Draft for Sabres.com. The first round of the 2017 NHL Draft will take place on June 23 in Chicago.
Team: Mississauga (OHL)
A towering 6-foot-6 defender, Nicolas Hague is an all-around player with a shutdown mindset, excellent game awareness and vastly improved decision-making skills in all three zones.
In 65 games last season, Hague lit the lamp 18 times and added 28 assists while logging top defensive pair minutes supporting the Steelheads' talented fleet of forwards. He continued to produce in Mississauga's pressure-packed run to the OHL final with 12 points (1+11) in 18 outings.
Hague, who has a rather smooth yet still improving skating stride for a big man, plays a fairly simple defensive game, leveraging his size and long reach to meet the rush and cover his checks. If there is one area of improvement he has made since entering the OHL, it's the way he has adjusted to the speed coming at him. He'll want to continue working on his pivoting, but his feet look promising.
Offensively, Hague's game is highlighted by a booming shot from the point. He has knows when to jump into the play and look for the connection as a trailer and when to abandon his point to pinch. He's proven to send accurate tape-to-tape passes out of the zone, but shows the sense to not force a play and instead use the boards or toss the puck into space so a speedy forward can go on the attack.
With a big frame comes the potential to be a dominant physical player. While he is certainly focused on positioning and sticking to his checks, Hague has played with increased confidence this season as he has become a meaner, harder guy to play against. The ability to add 20 pounds of mass should see this side emerge even more.
Hague is lauded to be an excellent student of the game, giving him reasonable potential to develop into a bona fide top-pair NHL defender if he can continue to trend upward with his four-way mobility and skating.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker's website, SabresProspects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@SabresProspects).
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