It's rare that a sports franchise gets the opportunity to make a draft pick that requires no guesswork. The Flyers are in that position this year.
They have the No. 2 pick in the NHL draft, held on June 23 in Chicago, and because there are two players - centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier - who have separated themselves from the rest of this year's class, the Flyers actually have it easier than the team picking first, the New Jersey Devils. The Devils have to weigh Patrick's recent injury history, Hischier's relatively quick rise as a prospect, the size advantage that Patrick (6-foot-3, 198 pounds) has over Hischier (6-1, 179), their upbringings, their intangibles, their preferences in energy-drink brands, everything. Then they have to make a difficult decision. The Flyers have to weigh all those factors, too, but without the tough choice. They'll just draft the kid the Devils don't. Lucky them.
I'd like to give you a definitive opinion about which player the Flyers should hope to draft - which one has more talent, which one would be the better fit, which one has the better work ethic and more promising future. I can't. I haven't seen enough of either Patrick or Hischier to judge.
(Yes, I recently spent hours watching film of Kentucky guards De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, then gave a definitive opinion about which Kentucky guard the 76ers ought to draft. I haven't had the chance to do the same for Patrick and Hischier. Sue me.)
But here at Philadelphia Media Network, we are a full-service sports-journalism operation, and we are committed to providing our customers and readers with the analysis and rampant speculation and conjecture that they want and need. To that end, I spoke with two experts Friday.
The first was Ryan Wagman, an analyst with McKeen's Hockey who formerly worked at Hockey Prospectus. Wagman has scouted both Patrick and Hischier. The second was a scout from an NHL team who, though he has not seen Patrick play much, has immersed himself in studying Hischier. Their comments, with some slight edits for continuity's sake, are below. Based on this insight, it would seem the Flyers will be in fine shape, regardless of which phenom falls to them at No. 2.
Here's Wagman on Patrick:
It's kind of like comparing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Patrick being the Toews type and Hischier being the Kane type. Both are players you want on your team. It's just that they're going to give you different things. With Nolan Patrick, it's easy to forget how good he was last year before he had his injury problems. He was incredible as a 17-year-old. He was the Western Hockey League playoff MVP. He was really unstoppable.
If he had been four days older, he would have been drafted last year, and he probably would have gone third, behind Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine. This year, it's not quite the same caliber, but Patrick is going to be a very good center very quickly.
This year, he could start off in a third-line role, and then get more minutes and play in more important situations as he gets acclimated. All of this, of course, is contingent on his recovering from his injuries. His ceiling is as a decent first-line center or second-line center.
Philadelphia has Claude Giroux. I don't know that either Patrick or Hischier will reach the peak of Claude Giroux.
He's 29 now, and that's generally past what you think of as a player's peak years. But if you say that Patrick won't be as good as Giroux was when Giroux was at his best, that doesn't mean he won't be as good as Giroux is right now. He would come in a different package but with similar value.
Here's the NHL scout on Hischier:
I don't love him, but I happen to like him. Good skater. Good on his edges. Excellent cutback and change-of-pace ability. Protects pucks well in traffic. He can overhandle the puck a little bit, but with his hands, I can understand why he's comfortable trying to push the envelope. I really liked his hands.
I'll give you an NHL comparison. This kid reminds me of Pierre Turgeon - skill, a nose for the net, smart. Here's the thing: His game translates. With the No. 1 pick, it had better, but his game translates to the NHL - the way he plays. And he's not afraid. I don't really feel like you need those big power guys. Those little skill guys have a place in the game, and if you look around the NHL, they're getting it done. Is a 6-5, puck-moving center who weighs 230 a good thing to have? Yeah, but Eric Lindros retired.