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Did NHL Central Scouting Pick the Best Man for the Job?

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Nolan Patrick as the Top Ranked Prospect

Nolan Patrick
NHL.com

Please Note: This article has been edited from the original version to correct an error pointed out by Copper and Blue readers. The revised text is below.

Nolan Patrick is the player NHL Central Scouting has ranked as the top prospect for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft later this June. NHL Central Scouting, who have made several dubious ranking decisions in the past, add to their less than stellar track record with this first overall ranking. They have made several accurate first overall rankings but also have chosen players who were most definitely not first overall on draft day.

There are several reasons why Patrick is a dubious choice for the top prospect. First among them is his injury record. For a player with only two complete (edited to correct a mistake) seasons in Major Junior, Patrick has an injury list which is just about as impressive as his statistics. He suffered a sports hernia, an upper body injury, and a lower body injury during the course of his draft year alone. He played only 33 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings, missing both the WHL playoffs and the U20 World Juniors Tournament due to injury. With only two years in Major Junior to his credit, Patrick’s ability to stay healthy has to be a concern for teams. While he is an incredibly talented and productive prospect, he is also one with a history of serious injuries. This makes him a riskier choice than a player who has the same level of talent but a lesser list of injuries to his credit.

If there were no such player in the 2017 Draft class, there might be a case for leaving Patrick as the top pick in the NHL’s potential draft order. NHL Central Scouting’s number two, Nico Hischier, has all the talent and ability to produce points. What he doesn’t have is Patrick’s injury-laden draft year and the concerns which come from that. While Hischier’s career has primarily taken place in Switzerland, he has excelled on the smaller North American ice surface with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QJMHL. He was also electric player to watch during the 2017 World Junior Tournament, with a total of 15 points in 11 games played. He was also the engine of a Swiss team.

With two very talented players to pick from, NHL Central Scouting’s choice to rank the one who missed most of his draft year due to injuries and continues to have question marks hanging over this longevity is a little bit baffling. It would make sense to keep Patrick near to the top of his draft class as he is an incredible player but also to acknowledge his limited body of work in his draft year by moving Hischier into the top spot.

Patrick’s most talked about year was his second year in the WHL on a Brandon Wheat Kings team that often dominated the WHL. Patrick’s influence and success were undeniable, but he is hardly the first player to have a fantastic where he was supported by first round draft picks.

That’s not to say that Patrick’s abbreviated second season didn’t see him producing points, but his average points per game were slightly less than when he was a rookie. It’s only a slight difference, but it is worth noting if only because logic holds that Patrick’s rookie season should have seen his lowest points per game.

As Patrick adjusted to Major Junior, his points per game should have increased. There are three possible reasons for why Patrick’s production didn’t increase in his third year. The first is related to the multiple injuries he’s suffered. Long-term injuries, like a sports hernia, can change how a player approaches the game or create doubts. Another possibility is that players were surprised by Patrick in his seconded year. With experience, opponents have been better able to counter Patrick, and the graduation of several Wheat Kings has thinned the depth of Brandon’s roster. With less threats to protect against, Patrick has less space and time in which to work. Finally, the expectations are different this year. In his rookie season, Patrick’s wasn’t the only force driving the Wheat Kings’ offence. Talented and more experienced players--like Hawrelyk or Quenneville--were there to share the load. This year, Patrick was the player expected to produce, and that pressure may have been detrimental. For whatever reason, Patrick’s production seems to have stagnated, which doesn’t seem in keeping with a first overall prospect.

Finally, Patrick’s draft stock has dipped in several other draft rankings. Multiple hockey analysts outside of NHL Central Scouting are starting to view Patrick’s performance as less than that expected of the first overall draft position, mainly for the reasons listed above. The point here is NHL Central Scouting is no longer endorsing an unanimous choice for first overall. Like any choice that is debated, there are going to be those on believe Patrick should be the top-ranked prospect and those who believe he should not be. With no clear idea of why NHL Central Scouting chose Patrick over Hischier, it is hard to understand their choice. However, some of the players they have projected to go number one overall haven’t even always even be drafted in the top three.

There are a number of reasons why Nolan Patrick might be a suitable choice for first overall pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft and an equally large number of reasons why he may not be suited to the position. Ultimately, the NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings are just one of many guides provided to teams to help them select the talent that best fits their team. Patrick currently leads a draft class that is considered to be rather lackluster compared to some of the recent draft classes. Furthermore, the Oilers, for the first time in several years, will not be selecting in the top ten, making the debate around who should be selected first overall more of a point of interest and less of a question of the future rebuild.