Prospects game puts Patrick and His­chier in the spot­light

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - BILL BEA­CON

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.”

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