Heading into the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, there was some debate about who the Toronto Maple Leafs would take first overall. For most, American Auston Matthews was the choice. But some couldn’t get past the Mike Bossy-like goal scoring potential of Finland’s Patrik Laine. Everyone agreed that both the Leafs and Winnipeg Jets (who owned the no. 2 pick) would wind up with an immediate contributor.
Everyone was right. Sort of.
Matthews and Laine weren’t just immediate contributors. They were immediate stars. Matthews became the first rookie to reach the 40-goal mark since Alex Ovechkin, while Laine had 36, himself, and might have hit 40 if he hadn’t been sidelined for nine games.
The 2017 draft featured a similar debate at the top. Heading into last night, it was a foregone conclusion that Nico Hischier (Halifax Mooseheads by way of Switzerland) and Nolan Patrick (Brandon Wheat Kings) would go first and second in some order. The New Jersey Devils wound up taking the speed and hands of Hischier first overall, while the Philadelphia Flyers immediately snapped up Patrick’s quick release at number two.
Following on the heels of near-historic rookie campaigns from Matthews and Laine, fans in Jersey and Philly might expect similar production from their newest additions. Should they?
In a word: no. Hischier and Patrick will be solid NHL players for a number of years. But these aren’t transcendent talents, it pains me to say. Matthews was the best player on a young Leafs team the second he stepped on the ice. Laine was instantly the most lethal option in the Jets’ attack. They saw the ice a ton because they were their teams’ best options.
The same won’t necessarily be true for Hischier and Patrick. Between the two, Hischier figures to get more quality ice-time with top linemates. The Devils are in serious need of a first-line center. Adam Henrique, Pavel Zacha, and Travis Zajac have their place, but next to a scorer like Taylor Hall isn’t it. Hischier could slot in next to Hall n Jersey’s top line if he shows well in camp.
Patrick on the other hand will have a tough time cracking Philly’s top-six unless he moves to the wing. Claude Giroux has the first-line spot on lock. Valtteri Filppula, who missed much of last season due to injury, figures to slot in as the second-line center.
What can we reasonably expect in terms of production from the pair? Let’s set the odds and some over/unders for their rookie seasons.
Hischier/Patrick Rookie Milestones
Odds to score 40 goals as a rookie
No one on the Devils had more than 26 goals last year. This is one of the most offensively-challenged teams in the league; their 183 goals-for were third-lowest in the NHL. Hischier will help, but he’s not a panacea. If he was going to be next to a play-making winger, his odds would be a little shorter. But his best-case scenario is that he plays with Taylor Hall, who’s a lot better known for driving the net with his head down than throwing filthy sauce across the crease.
Patrick simply won’t get the necessary ice-time, especially on the power play. The Flyers didn’t score a ton last year (219 goals-for) but they have ample forwards with impressive offensive resumes, including Claude Giroux, Jakob Voracek, and back-to-back 30-goal scorer Wayne Simmonds.
Odds to lead team in points
Hall has been a point-per-game player twice in his seven-year career. He had 53 points in 72 games last year, while he was basically centered by the default create-a-player from NHL 17. If he’s healthy, he’s the strong bet to lead the NJ offense.
On the Philly front, Giroux is coming off a down year, but he’s hit 70 four times in his career. Voracek is just two years removed from an 81-point season. They’ll be the go-to guys in Philly for at least another year, for better or worse.
As you’ll see from the statistical over/unders on Hischier and Patrick, below, they’ll have to greatly exceed (my) expectations to approach a point-per-game pace.
Odds to make the All-Star Game
The Flyers and Devils will likely be sending one player a piece to the 2018 NHL All-Star Game. The rookies won’t be getting rewarded unless they are truly the best that Jersey and Philly have to offer. This isn’t your driveway, where your youngest brother gets to touch the puck because mom said so.
Hischier/Patrick Rookie Over/Unders
O/U points as a rookie
Half a point per game would be a solid start for Hischier. There’s still a chance he doesn’t even make the team. Jersey is not going to be good next year. They may see value in letting him develop in Halifax for another year, instead of getting thrown into a losing mix in the pros.
I’m more sold on Patrick being NHL-ready given his size and toughness but, as already discussed, he won’t get the necessary ice-time to post gaudy stats.
O/U time-on-ice as a rookie
Patrick won’t get the power-play minutes Hischier is likely to see. But he’s a great two-way player who could take on some tougher defensively responsibilities and maybe even a penalty-kill role. Philly’s top-three centers all averaged over 17 minutes per game last year.
Zajac and Henrique both averaged over 18 minutes per game last year for the Devils. Zajac was at nearly 20 thanks to his two-way abilities. Hischier won’t be counted on to shutdown any of the opponent’s top guns, but he should steal some of the prime offensive minutes from Zajac and Henrique if he plays to his potential.