NHL: Nolan or Nico?



Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller sits on the ice after making a save with teammates around him during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Angela Tricarico, Staff Writer

Leading up to April 29, die-hard fans of the NHL’s lowest-placing teams are eagerly waiting to find out where their favorite team would be drafting this June. The NHL uses a lottery system, with the 14 non-playoff team all being assigned odds based on where they finished in the regular season. In this format, the team who finished 17th – the New York Islanders – is guaranteed to pick in the mid-first round or higher, but their odds of picking in the top three spots is extremely slim. The team who finished 30th – the Colorado Avalanche – has the best odds of picking first overall.

However, the upcoming expansion complicates the draft lottery – there are 15 teams in this years lottery, and the Vegas Golden Knights will have the same odds at the first overall pick that the Arizona Coyotes, the 28th place team, has.

The draft order post-lottery typically looks very similar to what it looked like before the lottery balls are pulled. Teams may move up or down one spot, but it’s rare to see teams with less odds jump to the top three.

This year’s draft lottery has an outcome unexpected by everyone. The teams who will be picking one, two and three all had higher odds for picks later in the round. The drafting order stayed largely the same, save for the three lucky teams who jumped multiple spots to get the top three spots.

The Dallas Stars had the highest odds of picking ninth, but jumped to the third overall spot. The Philadelphia Flyers, who didn’t have that terribly of a season, and were in the playoff conversation late into the season, will pick second overall – this is a jump of 11 spots, as they had the highest odds to pick 13th.

In a case of tanking gone right, the New Jersey Devils were awarded the 1st overall draft pick – a pick they had 8.5% odds to get. They had the highest percentage of odds in the sixth overall spot.

This disturbance in the drafting order caused the Colorado Avalanche to fall into the fourth overall spot.

So, with a drafting order firmly in place now, barring any trades, the big question is posed: Nolan or Nico?

The past few drafts have had very clear frontrunners – Connor McDavid in 2015 and Auston Matthews in 2016. Despite some conversation, there was never really a question of them not being drafted first overall.

This year is a little bit different.

When the initial scouting report came out in October, Canadian center Nolan Patrick, who plays for the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings, was given an “A” rating, along with others who were thought to be first-round material. Though there was no actual ranking, articles written highlighted Patrick as a clear first overall favorite.

However, this pre-draft season has been incredibly difficult for Patrick. The issues actually started in July 2016, when Patrick had surgery to repair a sports hernia. Though he did begin the season in Brandon, he only played five games before complications sidelined him.

While Patrick was out with injury, a second potential first-overall emerged. Enter Nico Hischier of the QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads: a Swiss center having a breakout season playing in North America for the first time. In November, Hischier scored 25 points in 11 games. At the World Juniors tournament, where Hischier represented Switzerland, he turned heads with 7 points in 5 preliminary games.

When midterm rankings from Central Scouting were released in January, Patrick topped the list, with Hischier coming in at number two. At this point, Patrick had just returned from his 35-game absence.

At the end of the regular season, Patrick finished with 46 points in only 33 games. Hischier, who played in 57 games, scored 86. Patrick’s total was an obvious step down from the 102 he scored the previous season, but his shortened season still highlighted the elite player he’s already showing all the makings of growing into.

Neither player made it far with their team once playoffs began. Patrick was once again injured, and the Wheat Kings were swept in the first round. Hischier and the Mooseheads played six playoff games, and in them, Hischier led the team with seven points.

Following both of their exists from the postseason, Central Scouting released their final ranking ahead of the June 23 draft. Critics were unsure whether Patrick had done enough to maintain the first spot, because in the time he was out, Hischier broke out. Patrick and Hischier remained in the one and two spots, respectively, but this list is by no means end all, be all.

The debate will be put to rest when the general manager of the Devils gets up on stage and calls one of their names, but only temporarily. But the Nico vs. Nolan debate is far from over. No matter what name does get called first, the two will likely be pitted against each other as rivals their entire, in a way similar to most of the other first and second overalls have in recent years, even if there is not even an inkling of rivalry behind the scenes.