The Oilers first pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is at 22. (Cue Taylor Swift.) On June 23, the Oilers will make the lowest first pick they’ve made in an NHL Entry Draft in years. They’ll pick any one of a number of talented players they hope will become stars and help the team to future success. Among the possibilities is Nicolas Hague. Hague is ranked 20th on NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings placing Hague somewhere in the area the Oilers will be making their first selection.
Hague is defenseman who has spent the last two seasons playing for the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. The Steelheads made it as far as the OHL championship series this last season, and in the playoffs Hague managed one goal and 11 assists in 18 games played. Fairly impressive numbers for a defenseman! Hague was also named to the OHL All Star team this last season and played in the CIBC Canada Russia Series as part of Team OHL.
Born in December 1998, Hague is a player who was born fairly early in his draft class, giving him some more time to develop his abilities. And at an impressive 6’7”, Hague certainly doesn’t lack for size. When his size is mixed with scoring ability, speed, and strength, Hague seems like a player who could make an impact in the NHL.
Hague’s offensive production paints the picture of a defenseman who is capable of functioning at a high level at both ends of the ice. His 46 points in 65 games played indicate that he’s no stranger to offensive production and comfortable playing a two-way game. Multiple reviews of Hague’s draft stock note that he’s a strong skater who can be relied upon in defensive situations. While the Oilers defense has the most depth it’s had in years, it is still vulnerable. The Oilers system is full of defensemen which may or may not be ready to step into the line up full time if there are trades or injuries. One only has to think of the almost panic when it was announced that Klefbom and Sekera were out of the line up for the same playoff game to realize the Oilers organization has a bit more work to do building depth in defense. Hague may be a player who can help build that depth.
Hague is noted by Future Considerations as being a “great mix of size, skating, skill” who is capable of “shut[ing] down the oppositions’ top lines and is a driver the play.” Among other abilities Hague is also noted as controlling the gap between himself and opposition players well and having good stick work. All in all, at 18 Hague already sounds like he has the pieces to be a very good defenseman in the NHL. He certainly has proven to be an elite defenseman in the OHL.
There are three reasons the Oilers may not be interested in drafting Hague. First, he plays left defense, which has been noted countless times to be the side of the ice the Oilers have more defensemen to play on. If Hague played right defense, he would have a greater chance of rising up the Oilers depth chart. As it is, the Oilers may prefer to take a chance on another player they see as meeting a more immediate need. A player for the right defense for instance. If the Oilers choose to build depth at a different position, or try and fill a different hole in their line up, it means Hague will not be selected.
The second reason Hague might not be selected by the Oilers is very similar to the first. He’s a left-handed shot, and the Oilers have a lot of left handed shots, especially on defense. Despite showing a marked preference for left-handed shots, the Oilers have struggled to fit right handed shots into their defense and line up. This is especially apparent on the power play. If Oilers management feels there’s a right handed shot on the draft board that meets their needs, Hague could very well not be selected, even if his projection might mean he could be the best player left when the Oilers pick.
Finally, there is Hague’s temper control. Hague’s confrontation with Ottawa 67’s player Travis Barron in the OHL playoffs earned him a game misconduct for throwing a punch after both players had fallen to the ice. Not only did he miss the third period, but Hague was suspended indefinitely by the OHL while they reviewed the incident. While it is expected that tempers run high during tense situations, the ability to control oneself instead of being a liability to the team is also important. Hague’s loss of control at a crucial time may mean he’s still developing as a player. This uncertainty could be both good and bad but may make him a less appealing pick than a known quantity.
All things considered, Hague is a solid pick if the Oilers wish to select a defenseman. He may not be the direction that Oilers management decides to ultimately move, but everything reported on him so far means he could be a potential Oilers blue liner in the future.