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."

Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

ap_ericlindros.jpg
AP Images

Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

The NFL's new helmet rule has caused confusion and frustration in the preseason.

Routine tackles in the past have been flagged, and players, media members and fans have voiced their concerns with what exactly will be a legal tackle come the regular season.

Enough with football. Could something like this come to hockey?

If Flyers legend Eric Lindros had his way, it would, and it would go a bit further too.

Lindros said last week at See The Line, a concussion conference at Western University in London, Ontario, that he would be in favor of eliminating body contact altogether.

Via the National Post:

“Let’s get right to it. You talk about me playing. I love hockey, and I continue playing hockey. But it’s funny — the hockey I was playing all those years was really physical, and I have just as much fun [these days], but we don’t run into one another. We’re still having as much fun, the same enjoyment of it. We know concussions are down in a league without contact.”

Lindros clarified his position on Twitter, saying that he believes clean body contact still has a place in professional hockey.

Let’s unpack Lindros’ suggested rule change because there is a lot there for the hockey traditionalists to chew on. I’m sure we’ll see some in the comments section below.

Removing body contact from hockey would be a fundamental adjustment to a game that has a culture of being a tough, physical sport where hockey players notoriously play through injuries.

Hockey players have a reputation of being warriors, and they get celebrated for it. Heck, Ivan Provorov played Game 6 vs. Pittsburgh with a Grade 3 AC separation that requires eight weeks to heal. Wayne Simmonds played the entire year with more injuries than he could remember.

The toughness hockey players display on a nightly basis is admirable, but it’s also sometimes stupid. When it comes to concussions and head injuries, it’s especially dumb.

But removing body contact altogether seems extreme. If contact remains in the sport at higher levels and pro leagues, then proper body contact should be stressed in youth hockey. Perhaps limitations on contact would make sense. It's not a totally crazy idea for young players.

The point, though, shouldn’t be lost. Concussions remain a serious issue and the NHL isn’t doing enough to address it. The league won’t even admit there’s a correlation. That’s a problem.

On Friday, the same day as Lindros’ suggested rule change, the NHLPA contributed a joint donation of $3.125 million toward concussion and brain injury research.

Lindros is one of several former hockey players who have been vocal about concussions and hockey, and understandably so. Concussions are very much part of Lindros’ legacy.

There are other ways to address concussions and the sport. It begins by admitting there is a link between CTE and hockey. The NHL has taken steps in protecting its players, but it can do more.

Headshots are penalized more seriously, but there remains inconsistency in how the NHL’s Department of Player Safety governs. That’s another area that should be addressed: more consistency.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, which oversees the Olympics, European leagues and international tournaments, penalize all hits to the head. That would be an enormous step.

Let’s not get sidetracked by Lindros’ idea of removing body contact from hockey. Instead, let’s stay on the NHL to continue to do better in protecting its employees from serious brain injuries.

After all, NHL players do have families to go home to after work and lives to live after their playing days are over.

More on the Flyers

Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Wayne Simmonds had just finished describing the season from hell.

He was the Flyers' 2017-18 version of the walking wounded, fighting so many injuries that he lost track running them off in late April.

At the time, no one would have blamed Simmonds for lacking some aplomb. Sitting at his end-of-the-season press conference, Simmonds was destined for surgery to address a tear in his pelvic area while coming off a stability-shaken year that produced his fewest goals (24) and points (46) over a full campaign since 2010-11.

Then again, it takes a lot to knock down a player like Simmonds.

This wasn't going to do it.

When asked if he believed he would be fully healthy for 2018-19, Simmonds responded with a resounding confidence.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "One hundred percent, no doubt."

Simmonds, a driven athlete, might have the most fuel he's ever had in a Flyers uniform. There are motivational factors flying at him from every angle and would you expect anything different than Simmonds embracing them all with open arms?

"When you're as dedicated as Wayne is and you put in the effort, the time, the preparation on a daily basis and get better every year, that's what we all should strive to do," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said in March 2017. "I think Simmer is an example for everybody to get better every year."

What exactly is the motivation this year?

Everything.

For starters, Simmonds is about to step foot into a contract year, unless his representation and Hextall agree on an extension beforehand. That very well could happen, but the Flyers may want to see Simmonds prove his health and production. Not only would that serve as reassurance on the soon-to-be 30-year-old, it also could help with trade value, if the Flyers decide to contemplate that route.

"If it has to go into next year, we're comfortable with that," Hextall said July 1.

Such a scenario wouldn't be a terrible idea for Simmonds. A loud and fast start to 2018-19 would provide him leverage in what he'll ultimately receive from the Flyers or elsewhere.

So, many eyes will be watching Simmonds' production. From where it comes will be one of the more intriguing storylines throughout.

With the Flyers, Simmonds has built himself into an elite power-play producer. Since the 2011-12 season, his first in orange and black, Simmonds owns 86 man-advantage goals, second in the NHL to only Alex Ovechkin with 131.

Which made it hard to believe when Simmonds lost grip of his first-unit net-front role down the stretch last season. The power forward went down from Feb. 20 to March 4 with a torn ligament in his thumb, opening the door for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who impressed with his savvy and skill around the blue paint.

Patrick netted three power-play goals during Simmonds' seven-game absence and never lost his spot the rest of the way. He led the Flyers with five markers on the man advantage over the final 23 regular-season games and dished out this beauty of an assist.

Simmonds, a team-first guy who was never healthy, took it in stride.

"I've played in this league a long time and I think you come to realize as a player if you're not at your top, you're probably not going to be getting probably what you usually should," he said after the season. "I know that's what maybe went down at the end, there's not really much I can say about that. If I was 100 percent, then I think there might be some annoyance, but I wasn't 100 percent and I understand the situation that we're in, the position that we're in, we were fighting for the playoffs. 

"While I got hurt there, Patty got put on the first power-play unit and scored two goals the first [two games], so what am I going to argue with? The kid's a heck of a hockey player and he earned it, he definitely earned it, and there's not much I can say. Just going to go out there once I got back and do what I can to help the team."

None of this is to suggest Simmonds won't regain his post on the power play. When healthy, there aren't many better at it, but the competition is clear with the rise of Patrick and the addition of James van Riemsdyk, a net-front guy himself.

Even before JVR jumped back into the picture, Simmonds saw his ice time dip. He played 15:13 during the Flyers' last six regular-season games and just 14:36 in six postseason contests. Simmonds simply wasn't himself. As a result, he was relegated to a third-line slot and may see the same in 2018-19 now that the Flyers are deeper.

"He can play every way," Hextall said about Simmonds when the Flyers inked van Riemsdyk on Day 1 of free agency. "He's net front on the power play, he's a physical player, forechecker, straight-line, go-to-the-net-with-your-stick-on-the-ice guy. Simmer can play up top or certainly down your lineup."

No matter where he plays, Simmonds will be motivated, maybe even a little ticked off.

That's a scary thought.

More on the Flyers