Prospects game puts Patrick and Hischier in the spotlight
QUEBEC There will be 40 players dressed for the Canadian junior Top Prospects Game but most eyes will be on two of them — Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nolan Patrick and Halifax Mooseheads forward Nico Hischier.
Patrick and Hischier are expected to go first and second in the NHL draft June 23 in Chicago and each was named captain for the game Monday at the Centre Videotron.
“I have a lot of respect for him, but I’m not going into the game thinking it’s me against Nico,” Patrick said. “I just want to help my team and play the best I can.”
Patrick leads Team Orr, which includes Windsor Spitfires forward Gabe Vilardi, ranked third by NHL Central Scouting among North American skaters. Hischier is on Team Cherry.
Patrick, who missed out on last year’s draft due to a late birthday, has been the consensus No. 1 choice by most scouting services since the start of the season. But the Winnipeg native missed 35 games with an abdominal injury while Hischier’s stock soared after a standout performance for Switzerland at the world junior championship.
The six-foot-three Patrick developed a sports hernia while leading Brandon to a Western Hockey League title last season, when he had 102 points in the regular season and 30 in 21 post-season contests.
He played only six games this season before he was injured again. But Patrick looks to have picked up where he left off when he returned on Jan. 14. He hopes to demonstrate to the scouts what the injury is now completely healed.
“I took a little extra time,” he said. “I probably could have played about two weeks earlier but I wanted to be 100 per cent and make sure I wasn’t going to tweak it or anything. It’s good now. No pain.”
What hurt was missing the world juniors, where he likely would have been Canada’s only draft-eligible player and, maybe, the difference in winning or losing in a shootout to the U.S. in the final. If he is drafted first overall, he’ll likely be in the NHL when next year’s world junior is played.
While Patrick is in his fourth year of junior hockey, Hischier is leading the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in rookie scoring with 68 points in 40 games. Scouts already knew the six-foot, 175-pounder was good, but he opened more eyes while putting up seven points in five games at the world juniors, where Switzerland lost a tight quarterfinal 3-2 to the U.S.
American coach Bob Motzko called him “the best player we’ve seen in the tournament.”
Dominique Ducharme, who coached Canada at the world juniors, was also impressed.
“We saw him score big goals at big times at the world juniors,” said Ducharme, who coaches the Drummondville Voltigeurs. “If you’re a scout, if you want to build a team, you want players who can rise up in those moments and make a difference and I think he is a difference maker.”
“It was such a great experience,” Hischier said of the world juniors. “We had a good group of guys in the locker-room so it was fun to play there, but there’s a lot of hockey to play until June so I have to keep it up and work hard.”