The Flyers are highly likely to select either Canadian center Nolan Patrick or Swiss center Nico Hischier with the second overall pick on June 23 at the NHL Draft in Chicago.
To get a better understanding of each player, we asked Russ Cohen, a co-host on “Hockey Prospect Radio” which airs on Siriux/XM NHL Network Radio and all TSN markets except for Edmonton, for his expert take.
Before we delve into the draft, can you first tell me about your background and your history of reporting on prospects and NHL Draft prospects?
I started a website, along with Doug Cataldo, called Sportsology in 2000. As far as the NHL Draft, that is the first event I got into to cover back in 2001. That was interesting and something I always wanted to go to. We interviewed players and such, and did live radio show and internet broadcast. Was it called a podcast back then? No, but that is exactly what we did and we did it live. That was fun and was a memorable experience, and it gave me the passion for following prospects. I cover the league, too, and have been covering the Stanley Cup since 2003. The prospect part is my favorite and what I started digging into every year after 2001.
I host a weekly radio show called “Hockey Prospect Radio” with Shane Malloy, [a former scout], and we have been doing it for about 12 years. It’s been a lot of fun. Starting this year we were on every TSN market except Edmonton. The show is still growing and for the last three years we have been on the floor for the draft. We get to do a live show from there. That is interesting. It’s a lot of fun and exciting because we get these guys [draft picks] quick and you get a lot of interesting answers before they hit the podium with the rest of the press.
I am not a scout and never been a scout, but I go to my fair share of games and watch prospects and like to analyze them and report on them.
Why would Nolan Patrick be a good fit for the Flyers?
It’s hard these days to find a guy who can tell you who Nolan Patrick played like. He’s a 6-foot-3 guy, plays a real heavy game, he has a fair amount of speed, good amount of finesse, can be physical, is great in faceoffs and as a two-way player and he’s a center. There aren’t many, many guys like [him] in the game.
He [would] be a good fit because he played on same team as Ivan Provorov, the same power play and certainly there would be great familiarity there and that always carries over. The Flyers need good centers. Claude Giroux is not going to be their No. 1 center forever. Whether he moves down to the second-line center or they put him on the wing, I can see it. It’s not because he can’t play anymore. It’s because guys are bigger and he can score more points if he plays on the wing, but that is just me. They may move him down to the second line [in the future]. If Sean Couturier is clearly a third-line center and you keep him there, they would be in great shape with Patrick, Giroux and Couturier.
They don’t have a guy like Patrick. If he were to fall to them, they would be thrilled. He’s a hard worker, he works hard in the corners, he’s a very smooth skater and knows how to get to the net. He is 6-3, 198 pounds so you know he is going to put on more muscle and he’s going to be a hard guy to deal with. He’s also good defensively and has a very active stick.
He missed a chunk of last season with a sports hernia and there are some concerns about his long-term health. Should the Flyers, or Devils, be concerned?
I don’t have any concerns. I think fans in this town are nervous because of guys like [Sixers center] Joel Embiid, who has had multiple injuries to the same area. But Embiid has not played a whole lot of games [in college and the NBA]. Patrick has played a lot of games. This year he missed 35 games because of a misdiagnosis. If they [didn’t have the misdiagnosis] he would have been playing. You can’t blame him for that and the medical advice he got. I’m not worried about it.
Will he miss games in his career? Yeah, but that is because of the way he plays. At every level he’s been at, he has always been one of the best players. I expect him to be a great player and a first or second line center in the NHL.
I try to make this point to people. In 2015-16, he played 72 regular season games and 21 in the playoffs. That is more games than Joel Embiid played in his life. The year before that he played 55 regular season games and 19 in the playoffs.
Why would Nico Hischier be a good fit for the Flyers?
He’s another center that can play on the first or second line. He’s a guy that can literally bring you back in a game if his team is behind. I’ve seen him do that in international play. He’s one of those guys that can strike down low by sweeping through the crease with great backhand, which is getting pretty popular. He’s got a great one-timer, excellent speed and plays bigger than his 6-foot, 175-pound frame. No one worries about that part of him as he will fill out. He plays solid defense, but he is a guy who can deke around two-to-three players to make a play. In a sense, he is more exciting than Patrick.
He is more of a guy who takes advantage of the open ice with his speed and has a lot of moves. Patrick is more of a guy who will power you and make the occasional fancy play. But Hischier is more of a fancy guy with enough size that he is hard to hold back. All centers are playmakers, but he scores goals — they both score goals. Two years ago, Patrick had 41. Nico will probably get 20-30 goals a year in addition to setting up 40 assists, too. He is capable of doing that. This year he had 38 goals.
Hischier sounds like a bigger version of Claude Giroux.
I can see parallels between the Giroux and Hischier. Giroux doesn’t have the same size, but as far as moves, skating ability and hands, there is definitely something to that.
Are the Flyers going to get a generational-type player?
They will not get a generational player but they will get a star. You don’t get a lot of Connor McDavids and Austin Matthews, who are generational players. Will these guys be stars? Yes, and both will be stars for 10-plus years and produce a lot of points. I am not willing to put them on the generational level.
Scoring 70 points in this league is a lot and will make you a star. If you are a superstar, you can get 80-90 points. When you [draft a guy with a high pick], you are always going to dream big and there is no reason not to. I would if I were a fan.
Is either player ready for the NHL next year?
I wouldn’t expect to see Nolan in the NHL right away. Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall is not the guy who wants to throw a guy into the fire no matter where they are drafted, and I agree. I think there is an outside chance with Nico, but I don’t think it is going to happen. The only way I would have them making the team is if they were the best, or one of the best, guys at camp.
There is a better chance they won’t make the roster this fall. Anyone can use a little more development. If you throw them into the fire next year and [Nolan or Nico] has an OK season, is that going to put the Flyers over the top? Probably not.
Do you think the Flyers should seriously entertain a trade for the pick, and what kind of haul could they get?
I think you always have to entertain it. You never know if a team is ever going to empty out all of their resources to get a guy. If they are going to do that, sure, I think you do that. But do I think Ron Hextall, a guy who jumped out of his couch when they got the second pick, wants to trade it? No. I think he needs an unbelievable offer. If he did, I think he’d need a guy who is a first- or second-line center who is NHL ready, swap out their second pick this year with the first round pick this year from the team they are trading with and then probably another No. 1 for next year. It may be that steep.
And it’s only because Hextall doesn’t have to make this deal. He does needs this position. There is not a lot of depth in the system. You are looking at two-to-four years down road for this guy to really have an impact. You have to imagine what is Claude Giroux going to look like in four years? You have to plan ahead.
The Flyers have a bunch of picks in the draft. Is this considered a deep and talented draft where they can grab some key pieces in the second to fourth rounds?
Some think it is a deep draft and some don’t. I think it’s fine for centers and defensemen. I think there will be a lot of guys out there to be found. Will it be as great as it was last year? No. I still think it’s a good draft. And anyone who says it’s a weak draft are often proven wrong a few years later.
The Flyers have boosted their scouting and that has helped a lot. If you can get three to four players out of a draft, then you are killing it.
They are also still interviewing goalies. Don’t be shocked if they add another goalie or two even though I know they are pretty well-stocked in the system.
The Flyers recently signed Oscar Lindblom to a contract. What are his chances of making the team and what kind of boost can he provide to the offense?
I think he can give a real good boost. He has probably 70 percent chance of making it. His skating has gotten so much better. We get Chris Pryor, Flyers assistant general manager, director of player personnel, on our radio show. We’ve talked about Lindblom for some years now and I’ve watched him at rookie camp and his skating [has] improve each year. His stick handling terrific. He is really strong for 6-2 and probably will come in to camp weighing over 190 pounds and will be very strong.
He definitely thinks defense as much as offense, which I think gives him a great chance at making the team. These days, you have to do that. He’s played a ton of minutes at world juniors and could be a very valuable guy. I think the Flyers secretly hope he makes the team. I don’t think they will guarantee anything because that is not Hextall’s way, but I can see him walking onto the squad. He is going to get a long look and probably play in as many preseason games as possible.