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AAtJ Staff Chat: Nico vs Nolan Roundtable Discussion

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This draft will see the first #1 overall selection in Devils’ history. While good news, it has spurred a heated debate on who to take — Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick.

2017 NHL Draft Prospects Media Availability
Nico is on the left, Nolan on the right. Gabe Vilardi is the guy in the middle, but we don’t care about him.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

CJ: Greetings, gentlemen. We gather here today to discuss the Devils 1st overall pick. The debate is between Brandon Wheat Kings Captain, Nolan Patrick who I profiled here; and the Swiss Sniper from the QMJHL, Nico Hischier, who Brian profiled here. I thought it’d be a good idea for us each to give just give a couple sentences each at the onset here on who we’d select with the biggest reason(s) why so the readers can know where we’re coming from. I’ll start.

General thoughts

CJ: For me, it’s Nolan Patrick because he’s been a better player over a longer period of time to a degree that exceeds any possible risk of injury. Nolan’s first season was the most impressive of either player, Nico’s status as the #2 prospect was springboarded by a small-sample WJC performance, and the argument for #1 is fueled largely by recency bias.

Gerard: I have to be the first one to oppose here, as I think Nico Hischier should be the choice for our New Jersey Devils. While there could be some recency bias, I think it’s also important to remember that this past year was Nico’s first on North American ice and he excelled on a “meh” Halifax Mooseheads team; prior to joining the Halifax, he was playing for SC Bern against men in the highest tier of the Swiss hockey system where he never seemed out of place. I also believe that he has the potential to be a more dynamic player based on footage of his game compared to Patrick’s and I think right now we need players with higher ceilings.

Alex: I have to double down on what CJ said, I think Nolan Patrick is the guy. In terms of what we have seen on the ice, I believe that Patrick has the higher floor. I know Gerard just mentioned Hischier may have the higher ceiling, and that’s possible, but you simply cannot miss on this pick. While both could turn out to be can’t miss guys, Patrick has been doing it longer, and in the hard-hitting WHL to boot. Give me that security blanket, even with the injuries.

Brian: In my opinion, Nolan Patrick should be the choice for the Devils. I feel that he is the superior two-way player that is more well rounded than Nico Hischier. I also weigh Patrick's success since breaking out in the WHL in his age 16 season higher than Hischier's track record in Switzerland and lone QMJHL season. I don't find the injuries too concerning at this point when weighing it against his potential. As CJ mentioned earlier, I think there is some recency bias at play which is making this a very tight debate.

John: My choice would be for Nico Hischier. Hischier has exactly what the Devils need in a top-tier prospect: a glorious mix of creativity, intelligence speed, and talent on and off the puck. While Nolan Patrick would generally fit the criteria for a top prospect, Hischier is slightly younger, almost as big as Patrick, and does not have an injury history like Patrick, which is a massive red flag. This pick for New Jersey needs to be a success. Therefore, I give the edge to the Swiss man coming out of Halifax.

Mike: I’ll go ahead and tie it up here and say I’d prefer to see the Devils draft Nico Hischier at first overall. He strikes me as a more dynamic player on offense who can create in a multitude of ways. Nolan Patrick certainly has plenty of talent in his own right but when you watch Hischier, he just seems to have that extra level that separates him from the other players on the ice. And while a lot of discussion about Patrick centers on his all around game, Hischier is highly regarded in that aspect as well. It’s certainly close, but I lean Hischier, and while Patrick’s injury history may end up being a blip in the long run, it’s enough to give me pause and push me fully into Nico’s camp for the first pick.

Teams of AAtJ Writers

Team Teammate 1 Teammate 2 Teammate 3
Team Teammate 1 Teammate 2 Teammate 3
#TeamNolan CJ Alex Brian
#TeamNico Gerard John Mike

CJ: Well it’s all tied up boys. Teams are set. Let’s get to arguing! After each section, I will summarize what was said. This will necessarily involve paraphrasing, but I’ll try to keep my personal biases out of it.

First, in favor of Patrick, how about you start us off Brian?

Arguments For Nolan Patrick

Brian: I feel that Nolan Patrick is a more well rounded player than Nico Hishcier. Patrick just screams "franchise center" to me with his skill, large frame, and defensive play. Offensively, Patrick is less flashy than Hischier but has elite hockey sense, a strong and deceptive shot, and solid passing ability. I really like that he's able to use his build to win board battles, protect the puck, and muscle through defenders to create opportunities for his teammates. For a player with top end offensive skill, I also think he brings an above average defensive game to the table. He's very competitive, understands where to position himself, and is aggressive in breaking up plays. That's another area where his large frame becomes an asset for him. The production he's put up since breaking into the WHL full time in 2014-15 has been remarkable. Both of these prospects are special talents, but Patrick is an excellent two-way player that is capable of playing in all situations.

CJ: I obviously agree that Patrick is the best two-way player. Having watched the full 6-game shift-by-shift package of Nolan Patrick posted on my profile, and the 2 full games posted by dthomas53 here on AAtJ (No.1 and No. 2) I think I would say that Patrick is a truly special talent with or without the puck. Nico is a special offensive talent and merely a solid defensive one. And I think the fact that Nolan is such a good defender and we call him “two-way” has led some people to sour on him as an offensive talent. I believe he is every bit as impactful in the offensive game as Hischier, but Hischier’s skating ability gives him more flash. With regards to offensive attributes, I’d give vision, shot, and positioning all to Patrick. Passing may be a push, but I’d lean Patrick. Hischier I’d give skating and stickhandling. Anyone severely disagree with any of those?

Alex: I would have to agree with CJ on that breakdown, but again I am on the same side, so I would have someone else comment on it in more depth. I am really impressed with what I see from him cerebrally. He said he loves to watch three forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Anze Kopitar, and Jamie Benn. Benn is your sniper, so he watches him to improve his offensive game, namely his shot. He watches Backstrom who is the ultimate playmaker and distributor, and he watches Kopitar who is your two-way, defensive minded center. I want my franchise player to be a student of the game, not just an athletic freak, and Patrick is absolutely intense when it comes to studying and learning and growing mentally. Where does he get help from this too? With his lineage. While a minor detail for sure, having NHL bloodlines is nothing to scoff at, and has certainly helped him grow and will continue to do so. While the major analysis should be done with on-ice performance, don’t forget about these areas as well.

Summary of Nolan Pros:

  1. Well-rounded, stellar two-way player
  2. Sustained production over two years
  3. Huge offensive impact — underrated due to “two-way” label and lack of “flash”
  4. Hockey IQ and lineage.

Rebuttals and Arguments Against Nolan Patrick

John: The biggest concern for Nolan Patrick is his list of injuries. As cited in CJ’s profile of Patrick, the center has suffered a broken collarbone, two groin injuries, an upper-body issue that kept him out through the end of the WHL season, and not one but two sports hernia injuries. One was known; he had surgery for it. Patrick revealed at the combine that he had a second one that he did not get surgery for to address. This means that Patrick’s shortened season involved him playing through a significant injury. This also means that it’s a big unknown as far as how much Patrick will recover. A reader, njd23mp, commented twice (one, two) in CJ’s profile highlighting that the groin and hernia injuries are the ones to worry about. You all should read it if you haven’t. While there’s no evidence that they’ll become recurring issues, at the least there’s a legitimate concern about how Patrick’s game will be affected by this. That he didn’t get to play at the end of the WHL season or in the WHL playoffs means we’re not quite sure. He appeared to do well at the NHL Combine, but that tells us nothing about how he may perform on the ice. For the team’s first ever #1 pick and a team that could really need a top-tier prospect, it’s a big risk to take.

Adding to that risk is that it’s questionable how dominant Patrick was in major junior hockey in 2016-17. Yes, the injuries were a big reason why he didn’t do more. Another big reason was that Patrick did not play with teammates like Jayce Hawrlyuk and Ivan Provorov in Brandon like he did in his outstanding 2015-16. That affected his production, and while it’s not everything, it’s not to be ignored either. Per Prospect-Stats, Patrick’s primary point per game rate of 0.91 is quite good. However, that rate is less than draft-eligible WHL forwards Kailer Yamamoto, Cody Glass, and Mason Shaw. Since the WHL does not publicly track shots, there’s not much more to point out stat-wise; but it’s enough to question whether Patrick was really dominant in the WHL when he did play last season. In contrast, Hischier posted a 1.21 primary point per game rate with Halifax. That was a top-ten rate among QMJHL forwards and no other draft-eligible player was better than Hischier. We can establish that Hischier was dominant among his league and in major junior hockey last season. If Patrick was out-and-out the best major junior player when he was healthy last season, then I could be persuaded to look past some of those injuries. He wasn’t, so I can’t, and this pick needs to be a success. I think that is more likely to come with the guy who hasn’t had groin problems or two sports hernia injuries and just dominated his league. That’s not Patrick.

Alex: While I understand the injury concerns, and they are there, I think we should consider what NHL teams think about them. And according to Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, “from many recent discussions with NHL personnel [his injuries] will have absolutely no negative implications or bearing on Nolan’s draft status.” That was said back in April before the lottery. To me, that is a huge quote. I do fully believe that some people are simply injury prone while others are less so, and there is a thought process there that shouldn’t be fully discounted. But I am also not a doctor at all, nor do we know the full extent and intricacies of his injuries. If NHL clubs, who would know all of this and would have doctors who could analyze those injuries, are not letting it affect their draft decisions, then I would have to believe we should not either. At least not to a major level. If you want to say they are equal so take Hischier, or that Hischier is flat out better I would say fine, but if you think Patrick is at least as good if not better when healthy, then take him.

John: It would be foolish to discount a player’s injury history when it includes a sports hernia that required surgery, one that didn’t lead to surgery, and a whole bunch of other issues. Hischier has had none of those on top of a superior 2016-17 season. He also has all of the skills one would want in an offensive forward prospect. Why take the unnecessary risk and hope that 2017-18 will be a fully healthy season for Patrick when there’s an already fully healthy Hischier who’s demonstrated his exceptional skating, passing, and defensive play?

Summary of Nolan Cons:

  1. Injuries, namely groin and sports hernia
  2. Non-elite 2016-17 production — outscored by other ‘17-class prospects.

Arguments For Nico Hischier

Gerard: When I think of what our New Jersey Devils need the most in our forward corps, what John mentioned before in creativity and speed hit the nail on the head; the Ray Shero/John Hynes Devils are supposed to be fast, supportive and attacking and Nico Hischier gives us the better chance to be that team. Choosing Nolan Patrick under our current regime would be equivalent to the old “round hole, square peg” analogy; I honestly think both will be good (or better than good) NHL players, but Nico fills more of what this team needs.

While Patrick may be a better defender now, that doesn’t mean that will always be the case, especially in an organization known for being defense first. Additionally, is everyone just forgetting that Travis Zajac will still be playing here for another 4 seasons at least? We need premier, high-end offensive talent, and while Patrick might be seen as more “NHL ready,” I think Nico fits the previous billing better.

Additionally, I think Hischier possesses the necessary skills to become the better player in the long run; that’s not to say Nolan won’t become a good NHL player, but I think Nico has the tools in his toolbox to become a more dynamic, game-changing player.

CJ: I’ve never been a big fan of playing the “need” game for nuanced things like specific offensive skill. If we were debating between a defender and Nolan Patrick I’d agree that defender is a bigger need. This is two top line centers that are great offensively. The fact that one is more powerful and one is a better skater to me is not particularly important.

Mike: Both Patrick and Hischier are obviously highly skilled players to be where they are and I agree that focusing in on one particular skill might be overthinking it. If the Devils draft Nolan Patrick, I will be far from heartbroken, but watching Hischier and reading about his game just gives me more of an impression that he could end up being a truly elite gamebreaking type. That isn’t to say Patrick won’t be great, but when I watch Hischier, “electrifying” is one of the words that immediately comes to mind. Maybe you could argue I’m just drawn to the flashier player, but Hischier isn’t some small or one-dimensional skill guy. People seem to sleep on his two-way game a bit, but when you read about him, he is absolutely capable of being a big-time player at both ends. He has plenty of size to be effective at the NHL level and he is touted for constantly working at his defensive play to go along with that top-notch skill. Again, I think Patrick could be great as well, but Hischier strikes me as the higher ceiling player right now and has less doubts in terms of an injury history.

John: I don’t think this is complicated. Hischier is a young man who was a standout in every competition in he played in 2016-17, he skates rather well, he’s rather good in both ends of the rink, he’s a volume shooter with an average of just over four per game, he was a big producer in nearly all levels he played at in this past season, and he doesn’t have two sports hernias in his history. He even has a good size as he’s just under 6’2” - he really needs to just add muscle. There’s not much more one can ask from a prospect like Nico Hischier - and he has everything the Devils could absolutely use for the short and long term. He could very well be that first do-it-all-and-do-it-all-really-well player the team has drafted since Zach Parise. To me, it’s an easy choice. It’s Hischier.

Summary of Nico Pros:

  1. Fits Devils “Fast, Attacking, Supportive” mantra better, volume shooter
  2. More dynamic long-term potential — higher ceiling
  3. Underrated defensive skill
  4. Dominated junior competition in 2016-17

Rebuttals and Arguments Against Nico Hischier

CJ: We’ve mentioned a few arguments against Nico, including small sample size, lesser defensive talent, smaller frame, etc. I’m gonna bring up something that no one seems to want to talk about which is his time in the professional Swiss league. He played in a Swiss league that, according to Gabe Desjardins has a point conversion rate just under that of the AHL. Yet Nico only managed only 1 point in 15 games. He also played in the B-league Swiss team (they have a relegation system similar to Premier League Soccer) and scored 2 points in 7 games. So let’s compare Nolan and Nico’s stats over the last two years now.

I used Vollman’s conversions for QMJHL and WHL, Desjardins’s for the Swiss leagues (I generously granted Swiss-B league Swiss-A status for simplicity, and I assumed the difference between them and Elite jr. was the same proportionally as AHL to NHL which is 0.45), age-adjusted based on Rhys Jessop’s formula, and weighted based on GP. Jessop weights age’s below 17 positively and above negatively The result, in bold, is a number that shows what a 17-year-old version of the player would have scored in an 82-game NHL season. You can check out my calculations here for yourself.

It is not hard at all to make an argument that Nolan Patrick is better offensively and it is a fact that he's performed at a more consistently high level than Nico over the last two years.

That’s my big point. But a peripheral critique is that Nico is a sub-.500 faceoff guy. I may be making a mountain out of a molehill, but shouldn’t top-line centers in the NHL typically win more than half against of their faceoffs against Canadian Junior competition? Patrick did…

John: It depends on the matchup regarding faceoff wins. But let’s get back to production. Patrick wasn’t even the top WHL scorer by rate when he was healthy in this past season. And not being able to play undercuts the consistency. :) More seriously, the question of who’s more offensive unfortunately can’t be fully answered because the WHL does not publicly count shots. The QMJHL does. I can tell you Hischier’s season with Halifax also came with an astounding 4.05 shot per game average, which was only bested by five other skaters last season - all of whom are older than him according to Prospect-Stats. Even on a rare pointless night by Hischier, he was generating something - and that’s more impressive than, say, racking up a lot of points with a high shooting percentage. I don’t doubt that Patrick was a shooter too, but we don’t have the evidence for that.

Further, I tried to dig into Hischier’s time with SC Bern. Unfortunately, the National League A website does not have ice time. I wonder whether Hischier received very limited minutes, like many younger players in European professional leagues. That would explain both his lack of success there and why few are talking about it - especially in the face of an excellent major junior debut.

CJ: Tell you what, John. I’m feeling generous. I’ll cut Nico’s games played in the pros in half to adjust for ice time -- assuming that even a youngster like him would get 10-12 minutes as opposed to the 20-24 he got in the Q. This will double his points per game for that period, AND reduce it’s impact on his total average.

Would you look at that … Nolan’s still better! In fact Nico’s NHLe over the past two years after this adjustment still fall just short of Nolan’s injury-plagued 2017 season where all of his best teammates left. And remember, my bar is low here. I’m just trying to prove that A) Nico’s not been good for as long, and B) we do not have sufficient evidence to make the claim that Nico is a better offensive player. That second point is hugely important since we already know Nolan is better defensively, with former Devils defender and his Swiss coach Tommy Albelin criticizing Nico’s defensive game and others describing it with glowing terms like “solid and improving”. If I can’t say that Nico is better at either offense or defense, I don’t know how I draft him first.

Side note: What kinda Mickey Mouse League doesn’t record shots on goal? Get with the times, WHL.

Mike: I think it’s tough to read a great amount into a 16-year old’s stats in a top-level men’s league. NHL equivalencies certainly have value but I’m not going to take them as gospel, particularly when trying to project from a 16-year-old playing in a league of grown men. Also, while recency bias is a concern, I don’t know that you should treat it the same way when you’re talking about prospects who are in the process of growing and developing. These are not the same players each season at that age and our most recent data is this past season, making it the most relevant. Plus, Patrick’s 2015-16, while definitely impressive, did take place on a stacked Brandon team. Bottom line: Hischier out-produced Patrick in 2016-17 despite being on a pretty crummy team in Halifax. Also, CJ, I think you’re selling Hischier’s defensive game, which some draft guides have rated above Patrick’s, pretty short here.

CJ: I saw that in McKeen’s too, that's ridiculous to me. It's been pretty common knowledge across scouts that whole Nico is respectable in his own end, Nolan is clearly better. But I suppose it'd be unfair not to let the readers know that some people think that lol. I do take your point about more recent performance mattering more, but I don’t know how to weight that in a non-arbitrary manner.

Also if we’re going to nitpick, Hischier wasn’t even the leading scorer on that “pretty crummy team in Halifax.” He led in points per game, but Maxime Frontier led in total points and his 1.27 per game rate is higher than anyone on Nolan’s team this year. Nico’s team in general scored 3.37 goals per game, Nolan’s scored 3.13.

John: It isn’t common knowledge if professionals at draft services - plural, it’s not just from McKeen’s - are praising Hischier’s defensive game as a big plus.

Further, if you’re going to quote that NY Times article on Hischier, you should really highlight Guy Boucher’s quote that closed it: “He manages the game like an adult, like a man,” said Boucher, now the coach of the Ottawa Senators. “Great vision, great poise, but he’s always in the right place defensively too, which puts him ahead of a lot of young guys — they rarely have both sides of the ice figured out, especially at that age.” Emphasis mine. That also undercuts the common knowledge piece either.

As for who’s better on offense, well in 2016-17, it was Hischier over Patrick. You can totally draft Hischier #1.

CJ: But in 2015-2016 it was Patrick -- by a lot. And I mentioned that Nico is solid in his own end in my first comment in this chat, but to pretend that there exists anything other than general consensus that Patrick is the better defensive talent than Nico is to suffer greatly from confirmation bias IMO (we can go source-for-source in the comments if you disagree). I think that the statement “Nolan Patrick exceeds Hischier as a defensive prospect by a greater margin than Hischer exceeds Patrick as an offensive prospect” lies on pretty firm ground.

Summary of Nico Cons:

  1. Nico has only been really offensively impressive for the past year — his 2015-16 numbers underwhelm.
  2. Nico’s defensive game — while better than that of most other prospects — is inferior to Patrick’s (contested)

Concluding Thoughts and Summary

CJ: Does anyone have any concluding thoughts they may want to add? Anyone change their opinion at all, want to offer caveats or last-minute rebuttals?

Mike: Honestly, it’s a tough choice, and I don’t necessarily envy the people on the Devils tasked with making it. I’m on #TeamNico here and I just like the package he brings a bit more, but Patrick is a fantastic prospect in his own right and if the Devils call his name, it’ll still be a great day for the organization. Either one could easily end up being the superior player, I just hope it ends up being the one we pick.

CJ: I’m with you on not being heartbroken either way. I think Nico is a great prospect and I will be excited to see what he does if we draft him. Is anyone in a spot where they would be heartbroken with the other guy?

John: I won’t be heartbroken if it’s Patrick. I think it’s a defensible decision and I hope he succeeds wildly if he is the Devils’ choice. Hischier has less baggage, so to speak, and has the offensive, skating, and defensive skills one would want in a young forward. I think that gives him the edge and so he is my preferred choice at #1.

Gerard: I certainly won’t lose sleep if Nolan goes to New Jersey over Nico; however, I do believe Hischier better fits the bill of not only the type of player the Devils need, but also that of one who would thrive in our current system. Any way you look at it, it’s going to be a fun couple of weeks leading up to draft night.

Alex: I have to echo what everyone else is saying. I would prefer my guy, to be sure, but I wouldn’t be upset if Nico is taken instead of Nolan. In both players you are getting a top offensive prospect with high upside and a solid chance to become a top 6 center in the NHL sooner rather than later. That is exactly what New Jersey needs. Winning the lottery was an absolute blessing onto a Devils organization that desperately needed it, and unless scouts are simply dead wrong about one of them, either way that blessing should turn into a franchise center. Can’t complain about that either way.

Brian: I also have to agree with the sentiment of everyone above. While I am a vocal Nolan Patrick believer, I would still be absolutely thrilled if the choice ended up being Nico Hischier. Both of these guys are a clear cut above the rest when it comes to this draft class and future star players. Both players are capable of becoming the face of the franchise for years to come. It is certainly a hard decision, but either way the Devils are going to come away with a remarkable prospect. I’m very excited to see the Devils in this position.

Your Thoughts

CJ: So, there you have it AAtJ Community. While we all have a lot of thoughts on which player makes a better pick, none of us will be devastated if the Devils go with the other guy -- and we will all be happy to root for him. But what do you guys think? Who would you rather draft? Did this article alter your stance in either direction? How will you feel if the Devils go with the other guy? Leave your comments and answer the poll below. Thanks for reading!

Poll

On a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being definitely #TeamNico, 5 being definitely #TeamNolan) where do you fall after reading this chat?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    1, #TeamNico, I’d be bummed if we went with Patrick.
    (100 votes)
  • 42%
    2, #TeamNico, but I’d be fine with Patrick.
    (281 votes)
  • 9%
    3, I have no clue.
    (60 votes)
  • 27%
    4, #TeamNolan, but I’d be fine with Hischier.
    (181 votes)
  • 5%
    5, #TeamNolan, I’d be bummed if we went with Hischier.
    (35 votes)
657 votes total Vote Now