There’s just a week to go until the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft in Chicago and the New Jersey Devils are on the table as they get to pick first overall. I’m still not tired of saying that. Here’s a post from last month about the NHL draft and here’s a post about the Devils actually winning the draft lottery. The draft order has been decided with the 2017 Stanley Cup Champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins, being crowned; they hold the 31st overall pick. But the most important draft question (or one of them, at least) for Devils fans is: Nolan or Nico?
If you haven’t already done your research on Nolan and Nico, I have some resources to help you out. I have draft profiles of Nolan and Nico, a comparison of the two, and a crack comparison as well. Each draft profile has links to footage on YouTube and you should definitely give them a watch. There’s no better time to spend four hours watching Nolan and Nico blow your minds. Trust me on this one.
As a Devils fan, the possibility of drafting either one of them wasn’t even a thought in the back of my mind until they actually won the draft lottery and even then, I had doubts. What if this was all just a giant joke? What if the NHL released a statement almost immediately after saying, “oops, the Devils didn’t win the lottery, they actually get to pick 8th overall instead”? But here we are, a week away, and the Devils still get to pick first. So who should they draft? Who do I want them to draft? Who will they draft? These are very important questions.
Who should they draft? Nolan’s the safer pick by a little bit. He’s played a little over three seasons in the WHL and we know what he can do. He’s a consistent player and even despite the injuries he suffered this past season, he still played 33 games and had 46 points, averaging 1.40 points per game. The year before that, he had 102 points in 72 (regular season) games, averaging about 1.42 points per game, and 30 in 21 playoff games (1.43 PPG). He’s been a more than a point-per-game player his entire hockey career so we know that he’s perfectly capable of producing offensively.
We also know that Nolan is a leader on his team. He was Captain this past season and was an Alternate the year prior. His injuries don’t bother me as much as they used to. He’s poised, he’s respectful, and he displays leadership qualities on and off the ice. He’s a good kid and would fit in with the team really well, as would Nico.
Nico is also a good kid and a good hockey player. One of the only reasons I say that Nolan is the “safer” pick is that Nico’s only played one season in North America; there isn’t as big of a sample size to work with. He had a tremendous season and made the adjustment much quicker than anyone expected him to, and the fact that he’s being considered for the first overall pick is greatly attributed to his play this year. But there’s always the possibility that he won’t adjust to the NHL as quickly as he did to the QMJHL, or as quickly as someone like Auston Matthews did, scoring four goals in his debut (and still losing in typical Leafs fashion). Then again, there’s the possibility that Nolan won’t adjust as quickly either even though both of them are poised to.
Nico also has a sense of humor, he’s well-spoken, and he has the ability to become a leader on whichever team he ends up on. I don’t think his breakout this season was a fluke because he played really, really well in Switzerland so he’ll continue to be an offensive juggernaut and help the team with their scoring issues.
But I think the Devils should draft Nolan. Who will they draft? I don’t know. If you’ve been following the NHL draft for longer than the past two months (as in, before the draft lottery), you know how often NHL analysts and journalists and fans have flip-flopped for months over drafting either Nico or Nolan. No one can reach a consensus. Before the start of the 2016-17 season, Nolan was the consensus #1 pick but with the year that Nico had, he gained some considerable ground and momentum.
So who will they draft? I’m leaning towards Nico, mainly because I think he fits into the system better. He fits into GM Ray Shero’s vision of the future better. He fits into the team better. Not to say that Nolan wouldn’t but he’s similar to current Devils center and 2015 first-round pick Pavel Zacha. Also, Nico is a defensive-minded center; he isn’t a liability in his own zone (Nolan isn’t either) but he’s been really good on Halifax’s penalty kill too. He could play in a variety of different situations and that makes him a versatile center.
The Devils could easily pick Nolan too; they have a thing for reuniting former teammates (see: McLeod and Bastian, Hall and Henrique, Wood and Santini) and Nolan played with John Quenneville in Brandon.
The entire organization and its upper management have been absolutely mum on the subject of the first-round pick. In an interview, Shero said that he had received phone calls from other teams’ GMs inquiring about the pick but I think it would be foolish to trade it away.
Who do I want them to draft? This is a tough one in particular because I like genuinely like both of them. This decision is that much harder because the Flyers get to pick second and we don’t like the Flyers. I want to root for whoever they choose but it’s against my team allegiance to root for the team they play for; it’s just not happening.
I’m going to preface my decision by saying that I love them both. I would be happy with both. The Devils really can’t go wrong with either one of them unless one turns out to be a bust (which I highly doubt). So? Who do I want the Devils to draft? Nico. Ooh, that hurt. I want New Jersey to draft Nico over Nolan because I think he fits into the system a little better. No, Nolan’s injuries don’t scare me all that much. No, Nico’s one year of North American hockey experience doesn’t scare me either. They’ll grow and develop within the system and the organization as they continue to play. Besides, we already know Nico looks good in red and black because he’s worn those colors his entire hockey career thus far, representing his native country of Switzerland. Think of the Nico-Rico puns! Also, Nolan is supposedly a Red Sox fan and we can’t have that. With all of that said however, even if the Devils pick Nolan, I’ll be happy with that too.
At the end of the day, no matter who the Devils decide to draft come next Friday, I’ll be happy (and I’ll be mad that Philly gets the other). They’re both good kids and good hockey players, and the Devils are lucky that they get one of them.