The Devils hold the first overall selection of the 2017 Draft. Scouts and pundits have gone back and forth about whether or not Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier should be the top ranked prospect for this year's draft. This profile is going to cover Nico Hischier, a talented forward from Switzerland who is coming off of a very impressive debut season with Halifax of the QMJHL. Let's get to know Nico Hischier a bit more to see why the Devils will potentially be interested in the dynamic forward.
Who is Nico Hischier?
According to his QMJHL page, Hischier is listed at 6'0, 174 lbs. and is a left handed center from Naters, Switzerland who was born on January 4, 1999. As you can also see from his EliteProspects page, he originally came up through the Visp youth system in Switzerland from 2009-2014 before transferring to the Bern system for U17 and U20 hockey in Switzerland's elite junior leagues from 2014-2016. He even worked his way up to the top flight of hockey in Switzerland, the NLA during the 2015-16 season, and also featured in the second tier league the NLB. Last season he came over to North America to play for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL where he found immediate success. We can also see that he's been a consistent member of Switzerland's youth and junior teams on the international stage.
Looking over the above stats, we can see that from a purely production standpoint that Hischier has excelled at every level he's played at. He's won championships and scoring titles at the junior level in Switzerland. Hischier has been an offensive threat at the U17, U18, and U20 levels on the international stage, twice earning U18 "Top 3 Player on Team" honors, and earning those same honors at the U20 WJC last winter. This past season he finished 1st in goals (38), 2nd in assists (48), and 2nd in points (86) on Halifax. It is worth noting that he was just one point shy of Maxime Fortier for the lead and did so in 11 less games. In terms of the rest of the QMJHL, Hischier finished 11th in goals, 16th in assists, and 10th in points. He also led all rookies in those categories thus showing that he was quick to adapt to the North American game. Looking at Prospect-Stats we can see Hischier had impressive rate stats in his QMJHL season, averaging 0.67 G/GP, 0.54 A1/GP, 0.30 A2/GP, 1.21 P1/GP, 1.51 P/GP, 4.05 SH/GP, and an estimated TOI of 23.76. He was named to the QMJHL All-Rookie team, Rookie of the Year, and won the Mike Bossy Trophy for Best Professional Prospect in the QMJHL.
Where is Nico Hischier Ranked?
Below are the latest rankings that are publicly available from a handful of great sources - NHL Central Scouting, The Draft Analyst, Hockey Prospect, Future Considerations, International Scouting Services, Craig Button, Dobber Prospects, TSN, and Recrutes. Since it's still early, some of these may change prior to the draft.
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Most outlets currently view Hischier as the second best prospect in this draft. It is a close call as to whether he should be the top ranked prospect and this article from TSN's rankings sums it up well. They asked 10 scouts from 10 NHL teams to rank the prospects and Patrick and Hischier each had 5 votes for the top spot. They asked another 10 scouts from 10 NHL teams and those two players once again split the vote for #1. In the end it will only matter what Ray Shero thinks.
What Others Say About Nico Hischier
Here is some of what Future Considerations had to say about Hischier from his profile page:
A smooth-skating, playmaking center…good skating agility and top speed, but is more quick than fast…is able to make quick turns and displays good lateral movement…not big or strong, but still shows willingness to take hits and battle for space…excellent playmaking instincts, vision and passing skills…puts puck where his linemates can best utilize the chance…an incredible stickhandler who thrives in possession and can make defenders look foolish…poise is a major standout attribute…dangerous when given time, especially on the power play as he takes full control of the play from the half wall with the puck, using his impressive agility, hands and vision to make plays…plays a responsible defensive game.
There is a lot to like in the above description of Hischier's game. A dynamic center that can think and act fast on the ice to be a scoring threat himself or to create opportunities for his teammates. It seems like he doesn't get overwhelmed on the ice due to his hockey sense and ability to create space. I also really like to read that he possesses a solid defensive game.
Next, let's read a bit of what Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst had to say about Hischier:
Hischier is an elite center with off-the-charts puck artistry and swift skating that combine into a lethal package. Sly and dangerous, he can strike at a moment’s notice. His agility and escapability are unmatched among draft peers, and at 18 years old his hockey sense is on par with the world’s best young players of any level. And he’s far from just a finesse player — Hischier is a fierce competitor who hates losing whether it’s a one-on-one puck battle or a seven-game series. He can kill penalties, lend support down low and do his best at physically moving opponent’s off the puck. Hischier has a good, accurate shot but it’s the way he fakes and jukes that makes beating goalies all the more simple. Blessed with sick hands, poise and a keen sixth sense, he is next to unstoppable once he takes the puck below the hashmarks.
Once again, another glowing review of Hischier's game. I really like reading about Hischier's competitiveness and ability to kill penalties, which shows that he's much more than just an offensive player.
Dhiren Mahiban recently wrote this article on Nico Hischier for the New York Times. The story contains quotes from Halifax Mooseheads General Manager Cam Russell, United States U20 coach Bob Motzko whose team competed against Hischier's Swiss squad, ISS Hockey scouting director Dennis MacInnis, former Devils defenseman Tommy Albelin who was a member of the Swiss coaching staff at the U20 WJC, and Guy Boucher who coached Hischier briefly at Bern in the 2015-16 season. I recommend reading the article but I'll include a few extracts.
Russell on Hischier: “He came here with such a concern on learning the defensive side of the game and being good defensively,” Russell said. “He’s just such a well-rounded kid.
MacInnis on Hischier's rise: I’ve seen guys go from the 20s to the top 10, but I don’t really recall the last time we had a guy go from 20s to contending for No. 1,” said Dennis MacInnis, the ISS Hockey scouting director. “We still think that Patrick is the No. 1 guy out there, but he has certainly closed the gap.”
Boucher on Hischier: “Great vision, great poise, but he’s always in the right place defensively too, which puts him ahead of a lot of young guys — they rarely have both sides of the ice figured out, especially at that age.”
The above quotes paint an optimistic outlook for Hischier's career. I really like his attitude towards being the best player he can be at both ends of the rink. In the article, Albelin mentions his defensive game still needs more work but it should round itself out in time.
A Little Video
As one of the most hyped prospects for this year's draft, there is a ton of video of Hischier out there. I'm going to focus on this 8+ minutes highlight package of Hischier's 2016-17 season from SEER VIDEO on YouTube. Keep your eyes out for #13 on Halifax. The good stuff starts around 1:28 into the video.
The next video contains highlights from the latest WJC where he had 4 goals and 3 assists in 5 games. Look for #18 on Switzerland. Credit to Hockey Prospects Center on YouTube for the video.
There is a lot to take in from those videos and naturally from a high end prospect's highlight package, a lot of it is great. We see Hischier get himself into dangerous positions to score numerous times, such as 1:28 or 1:48 of the 1st video. At the 2:04 mark is a great example of the way he can slip right through opposing defenders to gain the zone and capitalize on a quality scoring chance. He does a similar job around the 3:07 mark as well as doing a great job to fake out a defender to get 1v1 on the goaltender. At 4:45 you see him use his hockey sense to quickly find an open teammate and set them up for goal. Over the course of both of these videos it's apparent that his skating, shooting, and passing is just on another level than most of those on the ice. No wonder he had such a great transition to North America.
An Opinion of Sorts
Ignoring the debate between which player the Devils should select with the #1 pick and focusing just on Hischier as a prospect, I have to say that I think very highly of him. The Swiss import has game breaking offensive talent and can make his teammates better with his impressive skating to open space and vision to find his linemates in that space. He can create his own chances out of nothing with the way he's able to slip defenders or finesse through them. He thinks the game at a high level and puts himself into great positions on the ice in the offensive zone to score goals. I also find it encouraging that he takes the defensive side of the game seriously and wants to excel at both ends of the rink. By all accounts it seems that he has a great attitude on and off the ice. He certainly has the potential to be the type of player that you can trust in all-situations.
My only concerns, and this is me nitpicking, are his size and longterm positional future. Listed at 6'0, 174 lbs. by the QMJHL, he's certainly somewhat lanky. Now he is only 18 and will surely keep growing and putting on more muscle but you have to wonder if that will affect his finesse game at all. I personally wouldn't be overly concerned about it but it is something to keep in mind. Some also seem to think that there's a chance he may project better as a winger at the pro level due to his frame. With that said, if you believe that he is the most talented player in the draft, whether he's going to be a center or winger, then I believe you have to take him. While I'm still leaning more towards Nolan Patrick, I would be absolutely thrilled if Ray Shero called Nico Hischier's name out to open the draft.
What are your thoughts on Hischier as a prospect? Would you be in favor of seeing the Devils select him with the top pick in the draft? Are there any parts of his game that stand out to you in a positive or negative way? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!