Top NHL draft picks face off when Devils host Flyers (Jan 13, 2018)
The 2017 NHL draft was the Nico and Nolan show, with passionate debates about whether Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick would be the first overall selection.
Ultimately, the New Jersey Devils (22-11-8) made Hischier the first Swiss-born player in league history chosen first overall and the Philadelphia Flyers (19-15-8) grabbed Patrick with the next selection.
Nearly seven months later, the top two picks in the most recent draft face one another on the ice for the first time as professionals when the Devils host the Flyers on Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
"Don't judge Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier," Devils general manager Ray Shero recently told NHL.com. "They're kids and they're going to be good players. For us, we're real happy with Nico. Having said that, I know Nolan Patrick will be a real good player."
However, it's the nature of sports to compare athletes, especially those selected with the top two picks in a draft. And expect the debates to rage on for years to come with Hischier and Patrick both playing in the Metropolitan Division, facing each other a minimum of four times a season.
Hischier, who turned 19 last week, has the smoother transition of the two to the NHL, so far. With 26 points, Hischier is tied for second on the Devils in scoring with fellow rookie Jesper Bratt. His 18 assists are also second on the team.
Among league rookies, Hischier is tied for ninth in points and fourth in assists.
It has not been as productive for Patrick, who has only two goals, six assists and eight points. He also missed nine games earlier in the year because of injury. Patrick is without a goal in his last 23 games.
"I got to know him and he's a great guy," Hischier said of Patrick following practice on Friday. "(Saturday) I get to play against him and it'll be great to see him, but it's not a one on one competition, it's about the team, and we want to win this game."
Above and beyond the intrigue of the two rookies meeting head-to-head for the first time, there is the importance of the game itself with both teams seemingly refreshed coming off their bye weeks.
The Devils are on a season-worst five-game winless skid (0-2-3), coming off a blown lead in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders last Sunday.
"We have to jump right in," Devils defenseman John Moore told NorthJersey.com. "We've got to put a stop to the five-game slide."
While the Devils slide back towards the crowded pack in the Metro standings, the Flyers moved more into the mix before the bye week. The Flyers won three in a row and four of five, scoring 16 goals in their last three games and 21 in their last four victories.
"We had three games in four nights before the break and we wanted to do well," said Flyers center Sean Couturier. "I think we showed some good character."
Couturier scored twice in Sunday's 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres and is fourth in the NHL with a career-high 23 goals. As of Friday, Couturier's teammate Claude Giroux -- who was selected this week to participate in the NHL All Star Game -- found himself tied for second in the league with 52 points while Jakub Voracek led the NHL with 43 assists.
"Just making the playoffs now is the priority," Giroux told NHL.com. "If I'm scoring and (Voracek) is scoring and everyone does their job, that's going to give us the better chance to make the playoffs."
Both teams will go with their No. 1 goaltenders on Saturday. Brian Elliott starts for the 17th time in the last 18 games for the Flyers, while the Devils counter with Cory Schneider, who surrendered four goals in each of his last four starts.