The Nico Hischier vs. Nolan Patrick debate is ultimately kind of pointless for us here in Philadelphia, as the Flyers are simply going to get the player that the New Jersey Devils do not pick with their No. 1 overall selection.
But that shouldn’t — and won’t — stop us from talking about which player we would rather have, and it will surely be a topic of discussion on this blog all the way up until the 2017 NHL Draft. So ... uh, let’s keep doing that.
We’ve already had a decent bit of discussion about the NHL-readiness of both Patrick and Hischier. While both players could be NHLers as soon as this fall, there’s a sense that Patrick is slightly more NHL-ready just because he’s played North American hockey his whole life and because he’s both bigger and more physically mature.
One key thing neither player has is professional experience at a high level. You can easily foresee a situation in which Hischier/Patrick do not make the Flyers out of training camp this fall, but in which you’d rather have them play with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL than return to major juniors, where they are already proven stars.
That leads us into one major advantage in Hischier’s column — he can play in the AHL this coming season, while Patrick cannot. Let’s explain, because transfer rules for junior players are complicated as hell.
Normally, a major junior player — somebody in the OHL, QMJHL or WHL — needs to wait until they are 20 years old to play in the AHL for a full-season, with the lone exception being that they can be loaned to the AHL once their junior season ends like defenseman Philippe Myers did this spring. The junior leagues have this transfer rule in place because it allows them to keep their talent for as long as possible.
There are loads of players who would prefer to leave for the AHL to advance their development as opposed to just beating up on junior competition. But as you can imagine, the junior teams want to sell tickets and win games, and therefore need their best players to stick around as long as possible.
Patrick is subject to these rules as a North American player. He is property of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings and even once drafted by an NHL team, he can only play for either that NHL team or the Wheat Kings. Nowhere else.
Hischier is not subject to these rules because technically speaking, he is not property of his junior team, the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. He’s under a junior contract with SC Bern of the Swiss league, and he’s been loaned to the Mooseheads, who merely own his major junior rights. Because of that, he can play in the NHL, AHL, QMJHL, or could even go back to Switzerland and play for SC Bern in a quality pro league there.
This is essentially the same thing that Alex Nylander of the Sabres did last season, going from the OHL to the AHL after he had been loaned to his junior team from a Swedish club prior to his draft year. Finnish-born Julius Honka, drafted by the Dallas Stars, jumped from the WHL to the AHL follow his selection in the 2014 NHL Draft as well.
Hischier was asked about his options for 2017-18 in an interview back in April, and he basically said that he’d do whatever the team that drafts him feels is best:
If you won’t make the NHL next season, would you play in the AHL or go back to Switzerland?
That’s tough to say. I’ll have to wait until after the draft and see what the team that drafts me think would be best for my development.
You’re under contract with SC Bern until 2019, right?
Yes, but it’s just a junior contract. It’s not a professional contract.
It might be irrelevant if Patrick/Hischier make the Flyers/Devils rosters this fall anyway, but it’s clear that this is a check in the pro column for Hischier.