VOORHEES – A first meeting between the top two picks in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft might, in most cases, figure to be a contentious one.
But when Nolan Patrick, the Flyers center who was selected No. 2 overall, and Nico Hischier, taken No. 1 by the New Jersey Devils, square off on Saturday night, it might not be as adversarial as one might think.
In fact, there’s a great deal of respect, and perhaps even a friendship, between the two young men and one game isn’t going to change that.
Of course, things could go a different way when the Flyers visit the Devils for the first time this season at the Prudential Center, but it sounds like Patrick isn’t going to go out of his way to prove anything.
“It’s just another game, I think,’’ Patrick said after the Flyers finished practice at the Skate Zone on Friday afternoon. “The main focus is on winning.’’
Patrick, who suffered a concussion just nine games into the season, has played in 33 games with two goals and six assists for eight points with a minus-2.
Hischier has played in 41 games with eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points and is also minus-2.
Chances are the two won’t be playing a whole lot directly against each other. Hischier is a first-line center and Patrick is a third-line center.
The two faced each other once in the NHL Top Prospect Game in Quebec. Other than that, this will be a new experience.
“Obviously he’s a great player,’’ Patrick said. “You have to be aware of him when he’s on the ice.’’
It’s taken Patrick a while to find a comfort level but his play has picked up in recent weeks.
“I think my skating is getting better,’’ noted Patrick, who underwent offseason abdominal surgery and still might not be a hundred percent. “I’m a little more confident in my game now. I’m just trying to play fast.’’
Patrick admits he’s not sure just how close to fully recovered he is.
“You don’t really notice it (improvement) that much,’’ he said. “You just notice yourself feeling better.’’
At one point last year, Patrick was ranked No. 1 among NHL draft prospects. But the abdominal injury slowed him and limited his number of games and he fell to No. 2.
For him, though, there’s no looking back.
“No,’’ he said. “I’m happy to be here.’’
In a way, this will be a bit of a reunion between Patrick and Hischier.
“I know him pretty good, I actually talked to him today,’’ Patrick said. “He’s a really good guy.’’