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Since the New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery on Saturday night I have spent a lot of my time watching the consensus top two picks, Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, play hockey.
To this point, I have gone through 11 games of tape (six for Patrick, five for Hischier), taken notes on their skill sets and tracked data to help evaluate just how good each player is and what their tendencies are.
I plan on watching at least a couple more games to see if anything changes but I've constantly been asked which player I prefer and my answer is Hischier.
There are plenty of reasons for this:
Hischier is more dynamic with the puck on his stick. He has the ability to back defenders off and beat them with speed. If they step up to challenge Hischier, he has the hands and stickhandling ability to get around them. He is also slippery enough to get through small gaps.
Hischier is like a surgeon with the puck. That's not to say Patrick can't make plays, but I love the way Hischier picks apart defenses and uses his teammates.
He processes the game at such a high level and always seems to know where to go on the ice. In the clip above, Hischier dishes it to his teammate to draw a defender's attention away, attacks the small lane opening and splits the defense before giving it to a teammate for an empty-netter when it looked like Hischier didn't even acknowledge he was there.
Hischier consistently makes plays in tight spaces. At the NHL level, he is going to draw a lot of attention and always have players breathing down his neck. There are plenty of examples to suggest operating in small windows while under pressure will be no problem for Hischier.
Hischier is a better skater. I'm not knocking Patrick's skating as I've gone on record saying I don't see it as a problem. Hischier just forces defenders to respect his skating ability more, which gives him extra space to work with at times. He has also shown the ability to lose defenders with sharp cuts and stops and starts.
Hischier is an underrated defender. Whenever I mention his play, people race to point out that Patrick is a very good two-way forward as if that's some big advantage in his favor. Guess what? Hischier is a good two-way forward as well. He is 6'1' so size isn't an issue. He is defensively responsible, has a good stick, plays bigger than he is, and skated a regular shift on the penalty kill for both Halifax and Switzerland. Could Patrick be better defensively? Sure, but let's not pretend Hischier is a one-way player.
Production. Hischier averaged 1.51 points per game, 3.13 points per 60 at 5v5 and more than four shots per game. Only one other draft eligible player in the QMJHL averaged even three shots per game.
Shot data isn't available for WHL players, but Patrick averaged 1.39 points per game and 2.49 points per 60. Injuries could very well have played a factor in Patrick's lesser numbers and it's worth noting he didn't have a great supporting cast to work with in Brandon. That said, Hischier didn't play on a loaded team, either, and he was clearly more efficient.
I've been credentialed to scout junior hockey games for six years. I have always prioritized puck skills during that time, even more so over the last couple years, and I feel Hischier has the advantage in that regard. I have to stay true to myself, especially considering he is also the better skater and I have zero concerns about his defensive game.
Now, just because I prefer Hischier to Patrick doesn't mean he is better in every area. That is certainly not the case and I'm not going to try and convince anyone otherwise. Patrick has a more powerful shot, better physical attributes, and could very well be the better defender as well.
I know many have Patrick ranked higher as a result and the Devils could very well be in the same boat. I just prefer Hischier.
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