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Devils putting no pressure on Nico Hischier

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) As Nico Hischier is discovering, being taken No. 1 in the NHL Draft has its perks.

Since being selected by the New Jersey Devils with the top pick Friday night, Hischier has flown from Chicago to New Jersey, watched the New York Red Bulls play a MLS game and gone to a New York Yankees game.

And that was just Saturday and Sunday.

The Swiss center did a radio show Monday morning, met Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, visited a famous city deli to eat a new sandwich named after him and held his first major press conference at the Prudential Center, the home of the Devils.

And if you are wondering about the 2017-18 season, general manager Ray Shero says the Devils are keeping a roster spot open for Hischier. No pressure.

At least that’s what Shero and coach John Hynes are telling the kid. There’s no pressure at all.

“It’s great,” Hischier said. “Obviously as the first pick you have some pressure, but to hear that guys that are close to you and from the organization say there is actually no pressure from them, it’s all that counts.”

Hischier plans to return to Switzerland soon and start training for next season. He has a Devils development camp on July 11.

When asked about his goals for next season, Hischier says make the team and go from there.

Hynes, who saw the Devils finish last in the 16-team Eastern Conference this past season, sees Hischier as a second-or-third line center at the start of training camp. He expects to put at least one veteran on his line, adding that chemistry may determine Hischier’s linemates.

It’s a starting point.

Hynes said Hischier is competitive, skates well and knows the game. He can also play on the power play and kill penalties.

“We’re counting on him and planning on him to be a real important part of our team,” Hynes said.

Shero was quick to point out that the Devils are not expecting Hischier to put up monster numbers like Connor McDavid of Edmonton or Austin Matthews of Toronto, the last two top picks. They were franchise makers.

“The expectation we have for Nico is to be himself and I will say it will make a difference,” Shero said.

Hischier had 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this past season. He played the previous two seasons in the Swiss professional league.

Shero views him an unselfish player who has the ability to make the other players on the ice better.

“He is not coming here to be the savior,” said Shero, whose team won 28 of 82 games in 2016-17, and missed the playoffs the past five seasons.

Shero added it is unfair to put pressure on an 18-year-old to make a major difference in the Devils next season, joking he can’t even get his 19-year-old son to respond to the pressure of taking out the garbage at home.

“I know what I can do, but I still know I have to work hard for that,” said Hischier, who does not think he will have a hard time adjusting from living in Switzerland and Halifax to live in the New York City metropolitan area.

And if he did, Hynes offered him a solution.

“You can stay at my house and take out the trash,” he quipped.

NOTES: Hischier visited Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant a couple of blocks from the Prudential Center and ate the new item on the menu: “The New Nico (hash)1. It’s grilled chicken, authentic Swiss cheese, red Jersey tomatoes with lettuce, onions, honey mustard and mayo on roll.

Flyers make Nolan Patrick second pick of 2017 NHL Draft

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The Philadelphia Flyers selected Nolan Patrick with the second pick of the 2017 NHL Draft after Nico Hischier went first.

Injuries plagued Patrick’s 2016-17 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, as he was limited to 46 points in 33 games. His stock was higher after 2015-16, when he generated 102 points in 72 contests.

The general argument between “Nico vs. Nolan” has been that Patrick is the all-around player while Hischier was viewed as more “dynamic.”

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy joined those who tempered expectations for Patrick (while also praising his abilities) in this draft profile for PHT.

“Patrick is not on the same level as Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, but he does have the pedigree to be a pretty good NHLer – think Aaron Ekblad’s impact, but playing an Eric Staal kind of game.”

Flyers GM Ron Hextall admitted he wasn’t sure which pick would be available at second overall.

Nolan reflects on joining the Flyers in the video below.

Coyotes expect Stepan to be ‘true number-one center’

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Derek Stepan is 27 years old and has played over 500 games in the NHL.

Though he has never registered more than 57 points in a single season, the Arizona Coyotes believe he’s the big piece they’ve been looking for.

“We are thrilled to acquire Derek,” said GM John Chayka after Friday’s trade with the Rangers. “Our organization has been searching for a true number-one center for over a decade and we are confident that he can be that for us.”

Chayka is absolutely right that the Coyotes haven’t had great centers for a while now. Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal were fine players for them, but Jeremy Roenick was their last elite center, and he’s been gone since 2001.

But is it fair to expect Stepan to be a true number one?

Well, the Rangers were reportedly concerned his game was on the decline. And at 27, his prime years are probably behind him.

Also consider the bar for number-one centers in the NHL. It’s Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Nicklas Backstrom, and a few others who rate higher than Stepan.

One could even make the argument that the Rangers never won the Stanley Cup with Stepan because they never had an elite number-one center while he was there. (No disrespect to Brad Richards, but his game was on the decline when he signed in New York.)

So, no, it’s not fair to expect Stepan to be a true number-one center, even if he’s deployed like one next season.

The real hope for a number-one center in Arizona is with Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, and Clayton Keller.

In the meantime, Stepan will have to do.

Oilers sign Russell to reported four-year, $16 million extension

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When the Edmonton Oilers traded Jordan Eberle over the weekend part of the reasoning was so they could clear salary cap space, presumably to help re-sign veteran defenseman Kris Russell.

On Friday, they completed that series of transactions.

The Oiliers announced a four-year contract for Russell that will reportedly pay him $16 million.

That comes out to a salary cap hit of $4 million per season. TSN’s Ryan Rishaug adds that the deal could also include a modified no-trade clause.

Russell has become an extremely polarizing player in the NHL over the past few years so this deal is sure to receive equal amounts of praise and criticism depending on what exactly you’re looking for from a defenseman.

He has never been a strong possession player and doesn’t have a lot of offensive ability — two things teams seem to be looking for on their blue lines right now — which leads to criticism from the analytics side of the sport. But because he is one of the NHL’s most fearless shot-blockers and consistently among the league leaders in that category he is loved as an old-school, defensive-defenseman. That ability was a big talking point for much of the 2016-17 season as the Oilers had their best season in more than a decade (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Cam Talbot played a pretty significant role, too).

Another part of the justification for the Eberle trade was the fact the Oilers needed some additional salary cap space because of the need to re-sign both McDavid and Draisaitl to long-term contract extensions.

Eberle on his own was going to account for $6 million in salary cap space this season.

Ryan Strome (the player acquired for Eberle) and Russell will account for $6.5 million.

Are the Oilers better off with Strome and Russell than they would have been had they simply let Russell walk and kept Eberle? That remains to be seen, but obviously the Oilers think they are.

2017 NHL Draft especially big for Devils, Golden Knights

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CHICAGO (AP) The NHL stage belongs to Ray Shero and the New Jersey Devils. Then it goes right back to George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the wake of Vegas’ expansion draft, New Jersey is on the clock with the No. 1 pick of the amateur draft beginning Friday night at the United Center. The only other time the franchise had the first pick was in 1979, when the then-Colorado Rockies selected Rob Ramage.

“I think it’s been exciting for our franchise, exciting time for our scouts,” said Shero, who was hired as New Jersey’s general manager in May 2015. “In addition obviously to the first overall pick we’ve got the nine other picks, which are going to be very important on Day 2.

“But this is, I think, once the dust has settled now with expansion in terms of Vegas making all the selections or trades, whatever they’ve done, it really puts into focus again OK, the draft itself, which is important for every team.”

After New Jersey makes its pick – Shero said the Devils know who they are going to take, but he was keeping that to himself for now – Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado and Vancouver round out the top five. Then Vegas makes the first pick in franchise history.

The Golden Knights announced two more trades Thursday, running their total to 13 selections for this year’s draft. Vegas sent defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh-round draft pick to Carolina for a second-round selection on Saturday. It also shipped defenseman David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

Vegas, which selected 30 players in its expansion draft Wednesday night, has three picks in each of the first two rounds. It also has two selections in the fifth and sixth.

“It’s a hard draft,” said McPhee, the franchise’s GM. “Going through it today, it’s been a harder draft that most so it’s taking some time … three picks, it’s a lot to manage and you really have to focus. When you have one pick in the first round, you’re looking for one guy. When you’ve got three, it’s harder. But it’s a good problem to have.”

Forwards Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Casey Mittelstadt and Cody Glass and defensemen Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen are among the most coveted prospects. Patrick, whose father, Steve, and uncle James both played in the NHL, held the top spot in the NHL Central Scouting Department’s final rankings in April.

Despite missing much of last season with a groin injury, Patrick had 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games with Brandon of the Western Hockey League.

“At the end of the day I don’t care if I go one, two, three, four, like it doesn’t matter to me,” said Patrick, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field. “I’m just excited to get drafted and have a chance to try out for an NHL team. So it doesn’t matter to me.”

Unlike the past two years, when Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews went No. 1 overall and immediately had a huge impact on their new teams, there doesn’t appear to be a transcendent talent at the top of the draft. Led by Patrick and Hischier, the forwards are generally considered the top position group.

“I think this still will be proven to be a good draft,” Shero said. “Especially as they always look back, there’s always one or two Hall of Famers in every draft. Doesn’t matter where, they’re going to be in this draft 20 years from now. And who is it? That’s what the challenge is for any team.”

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap