Yes, the Devils lost Jon Merrill last night. At one point in recent history, that loss would have been considered near devastating. But, although he was once a promising young defenseman, the now 25 year-old blueliner has not panned out as hoped. Yes, it was a loss, but in the scheme of things, not much of one.
Frankly, all eyes in New Jersey are on the Devils’ first overall pick. Will the team step up to the podium tomorrow night? Or will they trade the pick between this morning when the deadline was lifted and tomorrow evening’s draft? And if New Jersey keeps the first overall selection, which I believe that they will, will the team select Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier?
My money is on Patrick, the consensus overall number one. Despite the fact that Hischier has been coming on this season, and that Patrick was injured for a good part of the 2016-17 year, Patrick is the player that will help the Devils long-term. In thinking about these two, I drift back to 2009, when John Tavares was the consensus number one. As the draft approached though, Matt Duchene started to be mentioned as a possible first overall. The obvious best player had tarnished a bit, maybe because he had been so far above everyone else for so long, maybe because Duchene did so well in the Combine interviews, but word was out that the Islanders should consider Duchene. Luckily, if they did consider him, it was only for a minute, because as we all know, Tavares was selected first and has gone on to become the Islanders franchise player. Duchene, on the other hand, has yet to show that he is anywhere near Tavares in NHL impact and is rumored to be on Colorado’s trade block as I write.
Then, in 2010, we had Taylor v Tyler (Hall v Seguin), who were close to even in NHL scouts’ eyes when their draft year began and remained that way through the 2009-2010 season. Hall went number one in the draft, then it looked like Seguin was going to surpass him in NHL success. But when we look at their stats, something funny happens. Turns out they are still close to even–both have posted a little more than .84 points per game throughout their NHL careers.
If those recent draft rivalries tell us anything, it is, as my grandmother used to say, leave with the guy that brought you. Patrick has been the guy the scouts have been touting for a couple of years. There is no indication that his missing a significant portion of this season will affect his entire career. But what the injuries did was affect Patrick’s performance this season. So, his development is a bit behind, and it allowed Hischier to catch up–at least temporarily. But if history has taught us anything, it is to go for what you know is 24 carat gold. Long term, Patrick has the greater upside, and upside is what you draft for. And in the number one spot, potential franchise player is what you select. Patrick is just that.
International Scouting Services and NHL Central Scouting still have Patrick as their number one. HockeyProspect.com, who may be the best independent service out there, has Hischier number one. But look at what they say about Patrick: “Patrick has a complete offensive game, showing the ability to both finish plays and create chances for his linemates. … He has great on ice vision and the ability to find teammates with speed on the rush, in the cycle game and in powerplay situations. He handles the puck with his head up and is consistently scanning the ice. … His release and accuracy on his shot in the slot is exceptional and he understands when he can afford to be patient with the puck or decisive. In addition to his shot, he can wait out goaltenders and beat them with his quick hands. [In addition, his] skating fundamentals are strong.”
I dare anyone to tell me that Patrick is not the player the Devils should take. Imagine him centering Taylor Hall. For years. The Devils already have their netminder. Yes, they need to shore up the D, but Patrick and Hall make a deadly duo. Now add Zacha, McLeod, Palmieri, and Henrique to the mix, and New Jersey will be scoring a lot more goals and winning a lot more games.
So, keep the pick, and choose Patrick. It is the shortest path back to the playoffs.