Welcome to the first prospect profile of 2017 at All About the Jersey. For the next 37 days, there will be profiles of all kinds of prospects. From potential first overall picks to players who may be options late in the draft. By educating ourselves of who is available, we can flow that down to you so you can have an idea of who is picked and whether he would be a good selection for the Devils.
This first one is about a player that the Devils scouts should be very familiar with. In addition to being one of the better prospects in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the Devils drafted two of his teammates: Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian. If that wasn’t enough, he is literally difficult to ignore on the ice. It’s defenseman Nicolas Hague of the Mississauga Steelheads.
Who is Nicolas Hague?
According to his profile at Elite Prospects, Hague is 18 years old with a December birthdate; he’s a left handed shot; and he is officially listed at 6’6” and 214 pounds. That alone will get people’s attention. His profile page at the Ontario Hockey League’s website is a little more modest; he’s listed as 6’5” there. All the same, he’s a big dude. This is his second season with Mississauga. He played in all 66 games with the Steelheads as a rookie; he was named to the OHL’s All-Rookie second team and won the 2015-16 Scholastic Player of the Year award. He has continued to be a regular for the Steelheads in his season season. Hague has missed all but three games total with Steelheads between this season and the ongoing playoffs. Hague was a member of Canada’s World Under-18 team in 2016, but he has not represented the country since then.
His numbers are worth taking a look at as it shows some serious growth. In 2015-16, Hague posted fourteen goals, ten assists, and 141 shots on net. In 2016-17, those numbers jumped dramatically to eighteen goals, twenty-eight assists, and 204 shots on net. His point per game rate nearly doubled from 0.36 to 0.71. His shots per game rate took a big leap from 2.13 per game to 3.14 per game. That shooting rate has continued in the Steelheads’ current playoff run, where he has averaged exactly three shots per game. Hague has benefited from increased time on Mississiauga’s power play. He is also making the most of his minutes, which has garnered him more minutes. If there’s a fault in his numbers, it’s in penalty minutes. He has 191 penalty minutes in 131 OHL games. According to Hockey Fights, he’s had all of four fights in these 131 games; so I wonder if he’s prone to fouling his opposition along with using that big frame of his.
Hague is getting a little bit more attention than other prospects as Sportsnet has an ongoing feature with him. Kristina Rutherford has a series of posts following Hague as he’s a 2017 NHL Entry Draft prospect. It’s called NHL Draft Year. As far as I can tell, there are two posts in it so far: The first part is from December, which is an overview of the player. The second part is from March, where he talks about his meetings with NHL scouts. I’m sure there will be additions regarding the combine and other events. So it’s something to look for. Hague has also garnered some negative attention. As Mike Johnson reported on March 31 at Sportsnet, Hague was suspended for throwing an extra punch at a fallen Travis Barron from a fight in a playoff game against Ottawa. The cheap shot gave him a two game suspension, which he has since served.
In total, Hague’s numbers, massive frame, and - perhaps most importantly - improvement from his rookie season are enough to make many scouts interested in him. Who wouldn’t want a 6’5” or 6’6” defenseman playing a lot and firing a lot of shots in the process?
Where is Hague Ranked?
Since the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL playoffs are ongoing and it’s only early May, there aren’t too many final rankings from the various scouting services. That said, here’s where Hague ranks among those that are available:
- NHL Central Scouting Services (Final): North America - 20
- The Draft Analyst (May): 19
- Hockey Prospect (February): 18
- Future Considerations (Spring): 17
- International Scouting Services (May Top 31): 18
- Craig Button - TSN (March): 55
- Dobber Prospects (April Top 31): 26
In the first five rankings I looked at, it appeared they rated Hague as a first rounder. CSS’ 20th among North American skaters would make him more of a late first, but the point is the same. Then I looked at Button’s ranking and it sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s not shy of being bold about his rankings. But I don’t think he’s totally alone, I did check Recrutes’ mock draft and McKeen’s Top 31 and Hague isn’t in either one. Perhaps some don’t think that highly of him. Peter Harling at Dobber Prospects does have him towards the end of the first round in his rankings.
I would take these rankings with a grain of salt. Some haven’t been updated in some time and likely won’t for at least a couple of a weeks. The OHL playoffs are ongoing and so some minds may be changed. Should the Steelheads take the OHL championship and go on to the Memorial Cup, then that’s more of a chance for Hague to change some minds.
What Others Say About Nicolas Hague
Since Hague plays in the OHL, it’s worth looking at what to learn about him at Brock Otten’s invaluable blog, OHL Prospects. Since the OHL isn’t done yet, let’s look at Otten’s preseason and midseason polls of who the top OHL prospects are. Otten makes a point of it to get comments for how certain people voted. In the preseason poll, Hague ranked third in voting. Here’s what Peter Harling of Dobber Prospects wrote, as quoted by Otten:
"The NHL is clearly trending towards a fast game, and favours defencemen that can move the puck in transition from the defensive zone. By looking at the tale of the tape, you may think Hague is a throwback to the old days where defencemen had to be big hulking physical defensive defencemen. At 6-6, 214 pounds it would be easy to see Hague fit that mould. However, skating is far from a deficiency in his game and he is equally adept offensively as he is defensively. He has a cannon of a shot from the point and can run the power play. Defencemen with his skill set are simply next to impossible to acquire outside of the draft, and as such he should be a top ten pick as the should be the second defenceman off the board come June." - Peter Harling
Harling and others thought very highly of Hague. This quote sums up why: huge defender, physical, defensively and offensively skilled, and skating does not appear to be an issue. I also highlighted this quote by Harling as something to compare with what he said in the midseason ranking at OHL Prospects. Here’s what Harling wrote:
"Hague should be the first defenceman taken from the OHL, he has a tremendous package of size, skating and offensive ability. His performance this season has not been as dominant as I had predicted but big defencemen sometimes develop a little slower. The point is he has developed this year and his ceiling is very high. To acquire defencemen of his abilities in the NHL you have to draft them so look for Hague to go off the board early in the first round." - Harling
I find the statement “has not been as dominant as I had predicted” to be rather interesting. It tells me that Harling was very high on Hague, he’s still on high on him, but it’s not as high as once thought. I suspect that others may have felt the same way. For example, Central Scouting Services had him ranked eleventh among North American skaters in their midterm; but he fell to twentieth in their final rankings. I wonder what has not developed so well?
"I'm sure many will focus on his size and projection as a shut down type of defender. But I'd rather talk about the interesting progression of his offensive game. He's not your prototypical offensive defender. He's not a particularly dynamic player off the rush and I don't think he's got a natural feel as a puck carrier/distributor. But, he uses his size exceptionally well in the offensive end. Consistently pinches in deep to keep pucks in, and actually plays a lot below the hash marks, using his size to work the cycle. He's smart about it though and doesn't get caught up ice all that much. Then there's the big point shot. He does a great job of finding scoring lanes and he actually does a good job of using different releases to get it through to the net. I don't know how much that will translate to the next level, but the improvements and confidence in his ability to make things happen in the offensive end is worth noting." - Otten
There’s a lot of good stuff from Otten here. I wonder whether the points about how he has not done so well in transition and at moving the puck are what Harling was referring to. That being said, Otten does note that he uses his size well and that he uses his shot very well. If he’s truly not that adept at passing the puck or following up on a rush, then he needs to have a good shot to contribute. That he’s averaging over three shots per game in 2016-17 means he’s using it well.
I’d love to see how Hague rates in Otten’s post-season media and scout poll of OHL prospects. I would expect him to be a top ten OHL prospect, but he may fall a bit. I’m more interested in what the various people have to say about his performances; especially Harling.
As far as the defensive aspect of his game, I turn to Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports. Kerr has done an awesome job putting profiles together for the past few years. He breaks down his profiles based on the various aspects of their player’s game and tends to offer a stylistic comparison to how the player plays. So expect to see him linked in this and future profiles in the coming weeks. That said, here’s what Kerr wrote about Hague’s defensive play:
The big man shows good defensive instincts for a player his age. He steers attackers to the outside, battles hard in the corners and clears the front of the net. Hague maintains good gap control. He is not afraid to use his body and push players around and knock them off the puck, but don’t expect big open-ice hits either. Hague uses his positioning and a long, active stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes.
This isn’t just positive for Hague, but it’s also expected. One should expect a 6’5”-6’6” defenseman to use his strength and frame in his game. The position of defenseman does require physical play at points; that Hague does that is satisfactory. I do appreciate that Kerr pointed out his positioning and stickwork to make defensive plays. I’d rather have that than someone just looking to lower the boom on players.
You should read the whole profile. Kerr’s notes on Hague’s offensive skill set matches with what Otten wrote in his midseason poll. Kerr also has something specific to say about Hague’s skating, which should be key in most scouting reports. The good news is that Kerr does think Hague’s skating is good enough for what he does. Whether one thinks that good enough is good enough for the next level is up to you. Regarding his defense, it appears that Kerr’s comments confirm that he has been good at that for Mississauga.
A Little Video
Since Hague has been a power player and a prolific shooter for the Steelheads, there are plenty of highlight videos available of Hague. SEER VIDEO on Youtube has a nearly six and a half minute long highlight video of Hague putting up points from his two seasons with the Steelheads. He’s the big man wearing #41 in this video. Be on the lookout for cameos by Devils prospects: #14 Nathan Bastian and #9 Michael McLeod:
While the video focuses mostly on scoring plays, it’s clear that Hague’s slapshot looks great. For example, at 4:01, Hague recognizes he’s alone on the left point. The puck goes loose, he jumps up, and fires a slapshot towards the far post. While the goal happens thanks to it trickling off the goalie, it’s a good placement for a not-so-easy slapshot. Too often that shot goes wide. A more traditional slapshot is at 4:37 when in a 4-on-4 situation, he just finds space and unleashes a bomb from distance. If you want to see his wrist shot, he finds the seam from the center point after his team wins an faceoff win at 5:37 His most impressive goal may be his end-to-end rush starting at 4:58. It showcases that he can skate, he did lead an odd man rush, and he was quick enough to beat the goalie on a wraparound. It’s not just a lovely looking play, it’s one that -shows that Hague is more than just a threat from distance.
From this video, I can also see what was noted about Hague off a rushing play. At around 2:50, Bastian takes on a defender to gain the zone. He cuts the middle as McLeod and Hague joins him. While with a defender of his own, Hague goes towards Bastian. That’s not exactly the greatest of options since he brought a man with him and he forced Bastian to make a short pass amid traffic. The play worked out as the pass to Hague did free up #41 to get away from the bodies and have a free shot that became a goal. Maybe I’m being picky, but it looked like a case of a good result despite the process.
All the same, this highlight video really hammers home the point that Hague has a very good shot and he has contributed in plenty of offensive situations and ways with the Steelheads. There are plenty of individual highlights of Hague scoring and producing on YouTube, but this video appears to encapsulate everything up until February. I hope in coming weeks that there’s an isolated video - one that focuses on how he plays in an entire game - or something like that. That would actually show how he has performed on defense.
An Opinion of Sorts
I can easily see why Hague would be a highly sought after prospect. Big defensemen who can score and skate decently are hard to find. His production in terms of points and shots have increased dramatically from his rookie season, which is always a plus. He has been a key component of Mississauga’s power play, he’s played in all situations for them, and he’s a part of the reason why the Steelheads are competing for the OHL Championship. The tools appear to be there and, based on what I’ve read, I understand that he has some real potential. It’ll take some time to get there, but it appears that the risk may be worth the reward. For a Devils team that’s short on defensemen in their system and defensemen who can be a part of a power play, Hague would be a real boost.
The bad news is that I don’t see any real shot of the Devils getting Hague. Unless Button’s ranking from March is more in line with what 31 teams are thinking, I don’t think he falls out of the first round. The size, the improvement, and the offensive skills are enough to justify Hague being one of the first thirty one players picked in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. I could see him going within picks #20 through #31. Maybe even a little higher. So why consider him? If the Devils have designs on trading into the latter half of the first round this year, then not only Hague would be possibly available - maybe he’s someone the Devils may want so much that they would make such a move. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea. After all, they’ve seen a lot of them if only from all of their viewings of McLeod and Bastian.
Hague is a defenseman to watch for in this draft, even if the Devils do not end up taking him. I suspect we’ll see him turn up in the NHL at some point in the future. At around 6’6”, he’ll be hard to ignore. In the meantime, what do you think of Hague as a prospect? Is he someone you want the Devils to have, so much so that it would be worth trading into the later part of the first round for him? Please leave your thoughts about Hague in the comments. Thank you for reading.