CHICAGO – The boat ride along the Chicago River was a smooth one, but some of the NHL’s top prospects were feeling the opposite internally a day before the 2017 draft.
“Everything, a little bit. For sure, excitement is there and [I’m] nervous a little bit as well,” said Nico Hischier, who finished second on NHL Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters. “I would [be lying] if I said I’m not nervous. But I’m just happy to be here and have the opportunity with my family to be in the draft and enjoy this day.”
Hischier, along with Nolan Patrick and the rest of NHL Central Scouting’s top seven North American skaters — Casey Mittelstadt, Gabriel Vilardi, Michael Rasmussen, Cody Glass, and Owen Tippett — and Klim Kostin, the top-ranked international skater, were together Thursday afternoon on a sightseeing boat as their pre-draft experience was beginning to come to an end.
“I’m not in any rush to get it over with. It’ll be a fun day with my family and friends,” said Patrick, who noted he wasn’t feeling too nervous or excited ahead of the weekend. “I have no idea what’s going to happen [Friday], but I’m just happy I got the most support from the people here who helped me through it.”
The New Jersey Devils hold the first overall pick, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers. There is no consensus on where Hischier and Patrick will go. Patrick was considered the favorite entering the year, and a strong season with the Brandon Wheat Kings (20-26–46, 33 GP) helped solidify him as the No. 1 in many minds. But Hischier put up big numbers with the Halifax Mooseheads (38-48–86, 57 GP) and had a strong showing with Switzerland at the World Junior Championship (4-3–7, 5 GP), giving some pause as to how the top two picks will play out.
While they sit and wait, both Hischier and Patrick aren’t worried about where they might land.
“For sure. Obviously I would be really happy in that case (to go No. 1),” said Hischier. “But I know that I’m going to be happy anyway… If it’s second, third, I’m going to be open and still I’m going to be happy.”
“It’d be an honor, but I don’t really care if I go 1 or 2. It’s not like if I go second overall I’m going to be ‘Oh, I wish Jersey took me at 1,’” Patrick said. “If they didn’t want me, then they didn’t want me. I’d be honored to go to any team. Whoever takes me, I’ll be happy to try to make an impact there as soon as I can.”
The prospect rankings from the top scouting services saw changes throughout the season. So you can forgive one of these 18-year-old players if they were caught checking to see where they stood in each of the periodic updates.
“People would be lying if they say they don’t see them,” said Gabriel Vilardi. “With social media everyone sees them. You don’t really think too much about it. If you did, you’d go crazy. You just go out there and play the game you love and then whatever happens, happens.”
As all 31 NHL teams build for the future and look to improve their rosters, these prospects will be experiencing the best day of their hockey careers this weekend.
Hischier and Patrick know they’ll likely be the first two picks. As for the others, it’s a waiting game. Each time NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman steps to the podium, they’ll want to believe it will their name he’s about to announce.
Until then, the waiting is the hardest part.
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