When it was revealed the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers were respectively selecting first and second overall at the 2017 NHL Draft, the longtime divisional rivalry between the teams was quickly recognized. They’ve faced each other five times in the playoffs between 1995 and 2012, with the Devils winning three of those matchups. While the games between these teams have had their highlights, the rivalry is lacking a particular element from its earlier years.
Throughout the 90s and early-00s, encounters between these two teams were largely centered around their core players and longtime captains- Scott Stevens and Eric Lindros. You see similar examples throughout today’s NHL rivalries such as Ovechkin vs Crosby, Thornton vs Kopitar, and Kane vs Tarasenko. While the Devils maintained similar player matchups with other divisional rivals like the New York Rangers (Brodeur vs Lundqvist), this has been nonexistent between New Jersey and Philadelphia for a long time.
The 2017 NHL Draft might have changed that.
For those who acknowledged the extensive history New Jersey and Philadelphia have formed, it quickly became apparent how both additions of Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick would create a storyline capable of drawing league-wide interest. In most NHL drafts, the progress of the first and second overall picks are the most-closely monitored, especially when both players make their NHL debuts the same year. It creates a sort of sensationalized rivalry between both players that goes largely unforgotten since a draft year’s first two selections tend to meet only once or twice a year. Since 2000, only three first and second overall selections went to teams in the same division (none of which would be considered high-profile rivals).
We’ve seen instances of this particular hype surrounding Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel (2015), Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine (2016), and Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin (2010) in some of the more recent entry drafts. It’s also worth noting a first and second overall pick in the same draft year haven’t faced each other in the playoffs since Patrick Kane and James Van Riemsdyk (2007) met in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier will play each other five times a year over the foreseeable future, where the added pressure of the longtime rivalry between their teams will make people watch both players’ head-to-head matchups very closely. Since the current playoff format is designed to increase the frequency of teams within the same division facing each other, it’s not inconceivable to believe Patrick and Hischier could wind up facing each other in the playoffs multiple times over the next 10-15 years.
Not only are Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier poised to potentially wage a Brodeur/Lundqvist or Crosby/Ovechkin-type rivalry between each other, but storylines like this broaden interest from the hockey community in general, and could help improve New Jersey’s league-wide appeal. The new focus of this redefined rivalry could potentially get the Devils back into an event like an outdoor game versus the Flyers, which would put the Hischier/Patrick rivalry in front of a national audience.
It won’t take long for Devils fans to detest Nolan Patrick every time New Jersey plays Philadelphia, and vice versa for Flyers fans with Hischier. If both players make their respective NHL rosters next season, you know both fan bases will monitor the progress of both rookies at a micromanaged level. When one player slumps, his team’s fans will quickly lament over their general manager making the wrong draft selection. There truly is a lot at stake in the redefined rivalry between New Jersey and Philadelphia, which will ultimately be perpetuated by the development of these two rising stars.