Nico Hischier's first-overall ranking may come as a surprise to many, but you would be hard pressed convincing his QMJHL coach that he's not worthy of such high standing.
"He can beat you in so many ways," says Halifax Mooseheads head coach Andre Tourigny. "He can beat you with faceoffs. he can beat you with defensive play. He's really, really proud of his defence, he can beat you with his work ethic, his intensity, his skill, he can beat you on the rush. He can beat you on the power play, he can beat you on the PK. He's a really complete player. I compare him a lot to Henrik Zetterberg when he was in his prime. When you were playing against him he was always efficient in every area of the game."
There are no visible weaknesses in Hischier's game, and unless there is a major fall-off in his play over the next few months there is an excellent chance the 6-1 center will be the first Swiss player selected in the top four of the NHL draft.
"Nico is really competitive, and he had a great skillset," adds Tourigny. "He can skate, he's really shifty, he can pass, he has quick hands, good shot. He works so hard defensively. I've never seen a player his age so proud of his defence. He's the whole package."
As is often the case with young European players it took Hischier a few games to adapt to the North American game. After starting the season goalless in his first five games, Hischier has been lethal. In his last 11 games, Hischier has scored 14 goals and 12 assists, vaulting him to third overall in QMJHL scoring.
Plenty of scouts made the trip east last weekend to see Hischier in person and he did not disappoint - compiling five goals and four assists in two thoroughly dominating performances against PEI and Sherbrooke. Needless to say, any scouts who witness his dominance were no longer unsure of his worthiness to be considered a top-five prospect for the draft.
"If you pick top five that means you have to build your team around that player, I would be so happy to build my team around him for the next 20 years...a person like Hischier...a player like Hischier," says Tourigny. "Nico is such a good man, good heart. He's very polite, respectful, I've spoken to his parents and I can't say enough about the values. A lot of reasons why he'd be a really, really good pick."
Brandon center Nolan Patrick has battled injury this season, so through no fault of his own, he has dropped to number two in the rankings thanks to Hischier's scintillating play. Patrick will still have plenty of opportunities to reclaim his number one status once he gets back into the swing of things in the WHL .
Patrick has long been heralded as a prime candidate to be picked first overall in the 2017 draft, and he did little to hurt his status last season after compiling 102 points to finish fifth in WHL scoring as a 16-17-year-old. He's expected to return from issues with a sports hernia injury he had repaired in the summer some time over the next three weeks, and hopefully he can be healthy enough to compete head-to-head against Hischier and other top draft-eligible prospect slated to compete in the World junior tournament.
Tri Cities' Michael Rasmussen is another talented center who has been on a tear this season, leading all WHL players with 18 goals in 22 WHL games, cementing his position as one of the draft's most coveted prospects.
Timothy Liljegren has been battling mononucleosis and has yet to play this season, but remains the most highly-touted defence prospect thanks predominantly to his tremendous skating skills.
Russian winger Klim Kostin rounds out the top five in McKeen's preliminary rankings with his impressive combination of size, strength and skill.
|1||Nico Hischier||C||Halifax (QMJHL)||6-1/175||4-Jan-99||21-17-17-34|
|2||Nolan Patrick||C||Brandon (WHL)||6-3/200||19-Sep-98||6-4-5-9|
|3||Michael Rasmussen||C||Tri-City (WHL)||6-6/215||17-Apr-99||22-18-10-28|
|4||Timothy Liljegren||D||Rogle (Swe Jr)||6-0/190||30-Apr-99||6-4-0-4|
|5||Klim Kostin||LW||Dynamo Moscow (KHL)||6-3/195||5-May-99||8-0-0-0|
|6||Casey Mittelstadt||C||Green Bay (USHL)||6-1/200||22-Nov-98||16-8-13-21|
|7||Nikita Popugaev||LW||Moose Jaw (WHL)||6-5/205||20-Nov-98||21-14-16-30|
|8||Eeli Tolvanen||RW||Sioux City (USHL)||5-10/175||22-Apr-99||15-9-8-17|
|9||Owen Tippett||RW||Mississauga (OHL)||6-1/200||16-Feb-99||20-16-8-24|
|10||Kristian Vesalainen||LW||Frolunda (Swe)||6-3/205||1-Jun-99||16-1-4-5|
|11||Miro Heiskanen||D||HIFK Helsinki (Fin)||6-0/170||18-Jul-99||17-2-3-5|
|12||Martin Necas||C||Kometa Brno (Cze)||6-0/170||15-Jan-99||20-5-6-11|
|13||Maxime Comtois||LW||Victoriaville (QMJHL)||6-2/200||8-Jan-99||22-6-7-13|
|14||Cal Foote||D||Kelowna (WHL)||6-3/215||13-Dec-98||21-1-14-15|
|15||Elias Pettersson||C||Timra (Swe 2)||6-1/160||12-Nov-98||19-8-12-20|
|16||Gabriel Vilardi||C||Windsor (OHL)||6-3/200||16-Aug-99||14-8-13-21|
|17||Urho Vaakanainen||D||JyP Jyvaskyla (Fin)||6-2/185||1-Jan-99||13-1-0-1|
|18||Ryan Poehling||C||St. Cloud State (NCHC)||6-2/185||3-Jan-99||9-3-2-5|
|19||Matthew Strome||LW||Hamilton (OHL)||6-3/205||6-Jan-99||20-14-12-26|
|20||Juuso Valimaki||D||Tri-City (WHL)||6-2/205||6-Oct-98||22-4-18-22|
|21||Lias Andersson||C||HV 71 (Swe)||5-11/200||13-Oct-98||15-4-4-8|
|22||MacKenzie Entwistle||C||Hamilton (OHL)||6-3/180||14-Jul-99||20-9-7-16|
|23||Nicolas Hague||D||Mississauga (OHL)||6-6/215||5-Dec-98||19-8-9-17|
|24||Cody Glass||C||Portland (WHL)||6-2/180||1-Apr-99||21-10-20-30|
|25||Ostap Safin||LW||Sparta Praha (Cze)||6-4/200||11-Feb-99||5-0-1-1|
|26||Shane Bowers||C||Waterloo (USHL)||6-1/180||30-Jul-99||15-8-7-15|
|27||Grant Mismash||LW||NTDP (USA)||6-0/185||19-Feb-99||20-5-7-12|
|28||Robert Thomas||C||London (OHL)||5-11/185||2-Jul-99||19-6-13-19|
|29||Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen||G||HPK (Fin Jr)||6-4/195||9-Mar-99||14 GP, .925|
|30||Conor Timmins||D||Sault Ste Marie (OHL)||6-1/185||18-Sep-98||21-2-16-18|