NHLPA approves realignment proposal

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NHLPA approves realignment proposal

NEW YORK -- The NHL moved a step closer to realignment Thursday as the players' association approved a proposed plan that is set to go into effect next season.

Now that the league has gotten the go-ahead from union chief Donald Fehr, the NHL will only need to get approval from team owners to put it in place.

"The NHL Players' Association confirmed to us today that it has consented to a revised plan for realignment, effective for the 2013-14 season," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "Our next step will be to bring the proposed plan for realignment to the NHL board of governors for its consideration."

Fehr signed off on the plan after discussions with the union's executive board and said the realignment issue will be "re-evaluated following the 2014-15 season."

No official details of the changes have been released by the NHL, but it is widely believed that teams such as Detroit and Columbus will be put into more travel-friendly divisions in the Eastern time zone, and the Winnipeg Jets -- formerly the Atlanta Thrashers -- will leave the Southeast Division for a spot in the Western Conference.

Up until now, there has been an even split of teams with 15 in each conference. Under the new plan, the East will have 16 clubs in it -- making playoff qualification a bit tougher.

The two divisions out West will contain seven teams each. The East divisions will both contain eight.

Each conference will still have eight teams in the playoffs but the setup will be slightly different.

Instead of the current system, under which the top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs, the new plan will award spots to the top three teams in each division along with the next two teams with the best records as wild cards.

The new Atlantic Division in the East will be comprised of Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York's Rangers and Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. The Central Division will contain Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Out West, the new Midwest Division will feature Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg. The Pacific Division will be made up of Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.

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Nico Hischier recounts meteoric rise in draft stock as Flyers do their homework

Nico Hischier recounts meteoric rise in draft stock as Flyers do their homework

WINDSOR, Ontario -- Ever since the Flyers shot up the selection order at last month’s NHL draft lottery, prospect and Halifax Mooseheads center Nico Hischier has been familiarizing himself with the Flyers' organization.

The Flyers entered the lottery with just a 2.2 percent shot at the first overall pick after finishing the season with a 39-33-10 record but climbed 11 spots from the 13th selection to No. 2 in the draft, which takes place June 23-24 in Chicago.

“I know it’s a sports city — they have the NHL, NBA and all those sports,” Hischier said Saturday at the Memorial Cup. “It’s a really nice city and I know Mark Streit played there and Jakub Voracek played in Halifax as well.”

The Flyers' brass has wasted no time familiarizing themselves with the 18-year-old, who spent this season playing with the Mooseheads in the QMJHL.

“We had already a little meeting together, but I think at combine we’ll see each other again,” said Hischier, who is ranked second amongst North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. “It was just that they want to know me better as a person. They asked me some personal questions and that’s about it.”

A native of Naters, Switzerland, Hischier grew up playing soccer. He was also an avid skier and snowboarder before his older brother, Luca, turned him on to hockey.

“I used to ski a lot,” Hischier said. “First skiing, and then snowboarding, but my brother played hockey, he’s four years older than me, then I just wanted to play hockey as well.”

Last season, Hischier followed his brother to Bern, where he played 15 games in the Swiss pro league with several former NHLers while he was coached by current Senators bench boss Guy Boucher.

The six-foot, 174-pound center registered one assist in his brief stint with the club but gained valuable experience in the process.

“I think that helped me a lot because they’re all older guys and they gave me some good tips, too,” he said. “I really could learn from them and it’s great that I could play with them.

“I think I learned a lot (from Boucher). He brought Canadian hockey to Switzerland, I think. His practices were hard and I could really learn from him.”

Halifax used the sixth selection at last year’s CHL import draft to pick Hischier, and after a little convincing, the lanky forward made the decision to make the move to North America.

“I just came to Canada to try to become a better hockey player and I worked hard,” he said. “I had great teammates, and Halifax is a great organization.”

Adjusting to the smaller rinks in North America admittedly took time for Hischier, but he adapted well leading all CHL rookies in scoring with 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 games. On Saturday, he was named the CHL’s rookie of the year (see story).

“I think I improved my game in the corners,” Hischier said. “You have to dump more pucks over here on North American ice, and chase the puck more behind the net. At the end, I would say my play in the corners (improved the most).”

Growing up, Hischier watched former Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk closely, trying to model his game after the Russian forward.

He spent time this season playing both the wing and center positions and isn’t afraid to go to the net hard despite his slender frame. His offensive talents coupled with his ability to play both ends of the ice is what caused his draft stock jump from 26th on ISS Hockey’s rankings in November to a top-three position in January.

Internationally, Hischier made a splash at this year’s Under-20 world junior tournament in Toronto and Montreal, scoring a team-leading four goals and seven points in five games.

The highlight came in the quarterfinals where Hischier nearly single-handedly upset the Americans, scoring two goals in a 3-2 loss.

The performance led to a glowing review from U.S. coach Bob Motzko.

“He was the best player we’ve seen in this tournament,” Motzko said following the game. “We tried all four lines against him and I thought he was playing every shift because every time he got out there, the ice was tilted. It was the first thing we said when we got into the locker room: ‘That’s the best player we’ve seen in the tournament.’”

After the Mooseheads' first-round playoff exit, Hischier once again donned his country’s colors, registering one assist in five games at the U-18 tournament.

However, he skipped out on an opportunity to represent Switzerland at the senior men’s tournament in favor of relaxation.

“It was really important (to recover),” he said. “I went a couple days away from Switzerland to the beach (in Italy) and just relaxed. It was really great. Had to refill my tank and it was just great.”

Hischier will get another opportunity to meet with the Flyers’ front office this week in Buffalo at the NHL’s scouting combine. It’s believed Hischier could make the jump to the NHL in the fall, but he knows he still has some work to do this summer to make his dream come true.

“Get some pounds on, I want to get stronger,” said Hischier. “I think that’s the most important thing and I work hard towards that.”

A healthy Nolan Patrick to Flyers? 'He won't let anybody down,' Brandon GM says

A healthy Nolan Patrick to Flyers? 'He won't let anybody down,' Brandon GM says

As he met with general manager Grant Armstrong, Nolan Patrick had just finished an injury-marred junior season.

The 18-year-old missed the WHL playoffs and was limited to 33 games because of two separate injuries. He underwent sports hernia surgery the offseason prior, a major impediment to his summer training. He never quite "caught up to the year," as Armstrong put it.

"I don't think he really ever got himself into a situation where he was 100 percent," the Brandon Wheat Kings GM said in a phone interview last week with CSNPhilly.com.

But none of that was about to crack Patrick's confidence.

"When we had our exit meetings, he told me he was going to play in the NHL," Armstrong said. "I wished him the best of luck and I expect that's where he'll be next year."

Where he could be is Philadelphia sporting Flyers orange. Patrick and Nico Hischier are the consensus top two picks for the June 23-24 NHL entry draft. The Flyers, of course, thanks to a stroke of good luck, will be happily sitting at No. 2 overall. The Devils will make Ron Hextall's decision much easier when they pick at No. 1.

The Canadian Patrick and Swiss-born Hischier are both centers. Coming into the season, Patrick was viewed as the draft's top dog, but his health and Hischier's rise have tightened the race.

Will the injuries cause apprehension?

"I think there's no concern at all," Armstrong said. "Injuries are a part of the game and I don't see it being an issue for Nolan at all. He trains well, he works hard at it and rehabs properly. I don't see it being an issue and currently, I think he's at 100 percent."

Despite the hampered summer and shortened season, Patrick showed why he's so heralded, compiling 46 points in 33 games for the Wheat Kings, his third year with the junior club. He scored 20 goals and collected 26 assists. Why that might not be mind-blowing is because Patrick had 102 points in 2015-16 on 41 goals and 61 assists for an astounding plus-51 rating. He went on to record 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 21 playoff games, leading Brandon to its first WHL title in 20 years alongside current Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Similar to Provorov, Patrick's hockey smarts belie his age.

"His presence on the ice, he just thinks the game, he puts himself in positions to be successful all the time," Armstrong said. "He's almost above the ice in his thinking aspect. He sees the game so well, he's a student of the game, he understands and puts himself in positions of success. That hasn't changed, it's only getting better for him.

"He's a difference-maker."

Armstrong joined the Wheat Kings last summer but had scouted and seen plenty of Patrick as Armstrong worked the previous four seasons for the WHL's Victoria Royals.

"He's a very elite player with a tremendous hockey sense," Armstrong said. "I think that's his biggest attribute is he thinks the game so well, he thinks it ahead of what's really happening on the ice a lot of the times. He's a player that's really starting to come into his own. 

"This next season will be a real opportunity for him to showcase his elite hockey sense and his athleticism and all the things that combine to make him a great player."

It appears Patrick, who has great size at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, is ready to showcase those traits at the NHL level. His future club will ultimately decide that in training camp.

"We would like to think we know that, but until the kid comes in and shows you what he can do," Hextall said earlier this month. "You make an educated judgment and then you go from there. A player has to come in and prove that he's ready and at this age not many are, so we'll wait and see which way [the player] goes from there."

Armstrong said there's constant communication between Brandon and NHL teams throughout a season and that it escalates this time of year as the draft nears.

What about with the Flyers?

"The Flyers are a great organization and obviously we have ties to their GM," Armstrong said. "It's a good fit and they know what's going on.

"They're dialed into what's going on and they have all kinds of ways to communicate with people."

While Patrick may not jump off the charts with Connor McDavid-like scoring ability, he prides himself on being complete. Armstrong said Patrick models his game after Kings center Anze Kopitar, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and 2015-16 Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's top defensive forward.

It's the do-it-all mentality Armstrong believes was special, night in and night out.

"Just the way he makes small plays in a game that would set up a teammate," he said. "He plays a 200-foot game, he's coming back hard and supporting the D in the defensive zone. Switching to offense, he's quick and he does things that make him such a great player.

"I think everybody thinks that a No. 1 or 2 centerman is going to be completely focused on the offensive side, but no, he's very committed to the defensive side of the puck — I think that's one thing that's a little bit misunderstood about him. He's got such an ability to play in any situation — killing penalties, late in the game, taking big faceoffs, that's his game."

Armstrong extolled Patrick for making everyone around him better on the Wheat Kings.

If that's with the Flyers next, Armstrong believes you won't be disappointed.

"I think they just have to be patient and allow the player to grow. He won't let anybody down," Armstrong said. "I just think he's an elite talent with an elite sense for the game. At some point, he'll be a great two-way centerman in the league. He'll put up offensive numbers. They won't be in the elite category, but he'll be a guy that'll chip away at his game, he'll produce. You just have to take your time and be patient."