Flyers

Halifax GM Cam Russell on Nico Hischier: 'You're getting a star for a long time'

Halifax GM Cam Russell on Nico Hischier: 'You're getting a star for a long time'

It was early April and Cam Russell was enjoying the QMJHL awards banquet when he bumped into an NHL scout with a confession of sorts.

Certainly no team ever wants to lose, but this scout couldn't help but think of Nico Hischier up for grabs and out of reach.

Russell, the general manager of Hischier's junior club, the Halifax Mooseheads, understood the feeling.

"He was wishing his team had dropped down in the standings, because he was talking about Nico — he said, 'Honestly, he has no holes in his game,'" Russell recalled last week in a phone interview with CSNPhilly.com. "And he really doesn't."

Hischier is that highly regarded — and he very well could be destined for the Flyers.

Oh, the beauty of luck.

At the June 23-24 NHL entry draft, only one or maybe two teams will have a chance to pluck the 18-year-old Swiss center. The Devils own the No. 1 pick, while the Flyers are slotted at No. 2 after cashing in at the NHL draft lottery, improbably moving up from the 13th selection to just about front and center.

Hischier is in a two-horse race with Canadian center Nolan Patrick to be the first overall pick. Some believe Patrick is a favorite to go No. 1, leaving Hischier right there for the Flyers.

Russell, who watched Hischier become the QMJHL Rookie of the Year and win the Michael Bossy Trophy (league's best pro prospect), believes that would be a victory for the Flyers.

"You're getting a star and you're getting a star for a long time," Russell said. "You're not getting a second-line center. You're getting a first-line center that's going to lead your team and play lots of minutes and bring you lots of fans in your building because he's just going to be a treat to watch — he's going to be exciting. 

"If you look at the big games that he's played, that's when he's played his best hockey. He's a competitor, he's a gamer and he'll definitely be a star in the NHL."

Hischier racked up 86 points on 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 games with Halifax. He was a plus-20 and added seven points (three goals, four assists) in six playoff games.

Russell first saw Hischier play two years ago at under-18s competition.

"He was playing as an underage there, double underage," Russell said. "I was speaking with an agent as we were looking for a European, and he just kind of made a comment and said, 'Look, I don't have this player here, but this is a guy that you want to keep an eye on down the road.' So almost a couple of years ago he caught my eye."

The Mooseheads were happy he did and made him the sixth overall pick in the 2016 CHL import draft. Soon, Hischier will be another Halifax product in the NHL.

"We've had some real good hockey players go through our program — (Nathan) MacKinnon, (Jonathan) Drouin, (Nikolaj) Ehlers, (Timo) Meier — but he does everything so well," Russell said of Hischier. "He's such a conscientious player, he's so concerned about playing good defensive hockey, doing all the little things right. You're watching a guy who is an absolute star and he's your best defensive player at the same time. Obviously he's a guy that jumps off the page and does some incredible things."

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has not revealed any of his hand when discussing the No. 2 spot and the NHL readiness of the potential pick.

"I don't know who that player is going to be," Hextall said in late April. "Any player, as you know from my history, they've got to come in and earn it."

There had been buzz of Halifax's having Hischier on loan. Russell confirmed that wasn't the case, which means Hischier will not be eligible for the AHL next season.

So, is he ready for the NHL?

"That'll be determined in training camp," Russell said. "It depends on who drafts him, what their plan is for him. The easiest way to put it is time will tell in training camp. I know he's going to be a great hockey player in the NHL.

"There's potential there that he could be returned to junior, but we'll have to wait and see. I think he's just such a complete hockey player that he can make that step, but we'll just have to wait and see."

Hischier's well-roundedness makes that more than plausible. The lefty-shot has an advanced game and hockey IQ. If there's one thing he may lack, it's what he'll probably gain with time: weight. Hischier is listed at 6-foot, 176 pounds.

"He's just got to get a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger like all 18-year-olds do, but that would be about the only negative thing I can say about him," Russell said.

"When I say the one thing, his size, I'm splitting hairs. The reality is, the game has changed so much. You look at Mitch Marner out there, Johnny Gaudreau — there are so many players that play today that maybe couldn't have played 20 or 30 years ago, but they're exciting, skilled players and they're just so quick and so smart that they have no problems out there."

Hischier's advantages are elusiveness and guile.

"He's so aware of what's going on around him that you don't see him get hit with an open-ice hit," Russell said. "He rarely puts himself in a dangerous position, yet he's the first one on the puck all the time."

Russell added that Hischier brings an excellent attitude because of a "great foundation with his parents."

As for comparisons, Russell, a former NHL defenseman, thinks of Red Wings great Pavel Datsyuk when he sees Hischier.

"He's such a strong offensive player, he's completely fearless — you cannot intimidate him," Russell said. "If you watch him play closely, you'll see that he's the first one on the puck and I've never seen a player roll off hits like he does in the corner. I can't think of a time when he was run over or contained in the corner, he's just so strong, so quick and so agile with the puck. 

"Whoever gets him, he's going to be a real fun player to watch for a long time."

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes.

Dougherty
If Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss in Winnipeg confirmed anything, it's the Flyers cannot break up their top line. They might not be able to score much, but their only scoring is coming from Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

The Couturier line accounts for 48 percent of the Flyers' offense, or 25 goals. Factor the defense and top line together, and that's 59 percent, as the blue line has produced six tallies this season.

Of the 21 goals the Flyers have scored that do not come from the top line or blue line, 12 have come from two players, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds hasn't scored in 11 games, and Filppula has one goal in his past nine games.

Two lines have stayed intact since Day 1 — the Couturier line and the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been hesitant about breaking up his fourth line, and rightfully so. Laughton, Leier and Raffl have chemistry, and they're almost always cycling in the offensive zone.

Nolan Patrick just returned after missing three weeks because of a "suspected" concussion and played sparingly against the Jets. He should help the Flyers' scoring woes, but he won't solve them. I think it's time to break up the fourth line, and based on the Winnipeg game, it looks like a possibility Hakstol is considering.

Here's why. Raffl played on the second power-play unit against the Jets, which was a first this season. Perhaps Hakstol didn't want to throw Patrick back into the fire and watched the rookie's minutes.

Breaking up lines Nos. 2, 3 and 4 is the best course of action. Travis Konecny is struggling with confidence, Jordan Weal hasn't been great, and those are two players the Flyers need to get going. It's time to end the Dale Weise in the top-nine experiment.

With what the Flyers have, here is what I would do:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Michael Raffl
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Hall
There's no need to panic if you're the Flyers.

First, you finally have a no-doubt-about-it top line. Voracek, Couturier and Giroux have blended beautifully and are doing damage, as the Flyers entered Friday one of only three teams in the NHL with a trio of players over 20 points each. Don't break that up just because there's an imbalance below it. 

And second, it's a long season. Ups and downs are common and things can change quickly. Just look at last season. The Flyers ripped off 10 straight wins and scored the NHL's second-most goals through the first two months of 2016-17. As we all know, they didn't make the postseason and finished as a bottom-third goal-scoring club.

The Flyers simply need to continue experimenting with their middle six and see what eventually works best. A little patience was going to be required when you're relying on a 19-year-old rookie in Patrick, a 20-year-old still finding himself at this level in Konecny and a 25-year-old facing his first full NHL season in Weal.

And let's not forget, the defense is exceptionally young with two rookies (Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim), a 20-year-old leader (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player coming off a sophomore slump (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But back to the forwards. 

If you recall, a stretch from Oct. 10-17 featured Filppula centering Weal and Simmonds on the second line, with Patrick centering Konecny and Weise on the third unit. It resulted in a pretty productive three-game span in which the Flyers picked up two wins and outscored the opposition 18-9.

I really liked the dynamic of that middle six. And the Flyers can now return to it with Patrick suiting up. He will be eased back into heavier minutes, but he can make a difference when healthy and comfortable. Patrick and Konecny can still play plenty of minutes on the third line with less pressure and potentially more favorable matchups.

We've seen Weal and Simmonds work well together, and Filppula adds smarts and steadiness down the middle.

But the important thing to remember is the Flyers are only 19 games into an 82-game grind. Scoring can come and go at times, and there's no reason it can't come down the line.

So, here's what I like best for the Flyers right now:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl