When Nico Hischier makes a mistake, he atones for it – and quickly. With his team up a goal with less than three minutes to go, the Swiss center accidentally high-sticked the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Vala, garnering himself two minutes in the box. While the Swiss killed off the infraction, they never got the puck back and with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, the Czechs got the equalizer from Ottawa pick Filip Chlapik.
Hischier didn’t tuck his tail between his legs however. Early in overtime, he grabbed a puck and went on a breakaway, potting the winner for Switzerland. In a 4-3 win, the 2017 draft prospect had three points and was on the ice for all four scores. Coupled with his excellent performance in the final exhibition game against Canada and Hischier is already making noise for the Swiss. And he doesn’t care that his squad appears young.
“We know what we can do,” he said. “We’re a young team, but we are a pretty good team with good chemistry. We can surprise some people if we play 60 minutes of our best hockey with speed and create chances.”
Well, it ended up being 61 minutes against the Czechs, but no doubt the Swiss will take it. In a grouping that also features Denmark and a very young Finnish team, Switzerland has a chance to return to the medal round for the first time since 2014. And Hischier will be the key. He’s definitely a top-10 pick for the draft right now, but could he even be top-five? Some NHL scouts are hedging that way.
Playing for Halifax in the Quebec League, he’s following in the footsteps of other great European imports such as Jakub Voracek, Timo Meier and Nikolaj Ehlers. In terms of expectation, Ehlers is a pretty good comparable, even if the two don’t play exactly the same.
“He doesn’t have the explosive speed of Ehlers,” said one NHL scout. “But Nico is quick and he finds holes. His hockey IQ is great.”
The two imports are also having similar impacts on their Mooseheads junior team. Ehlers had 104 points in 63 games in his draft year, while Hischier has 48 points through his first 31 contests.
“He’s very close to Ehlers,” said the scout. “The difference is that Ehlers had a strong team around him.”
Indeed, Ehlers got to play his draft year on the same Mooseheads squad as Jonathan Drouin. Hischier has a high-scoring buddy himself in undrafted 19-year-old Maxime Fortier, but otherwise Halifax is breaking in a lot of young talent. Either way, Hischier is happy he made the jump from Bern in Switzerland. The talented center wanted to come to Canada and play the 68-game major junior schedule, while adapting to the smaller North American ice surface. Not only that, but he wanted to learn a different style of play over here.
“That’s true, it’s a different style,” he said. “You have to chip more pucks in, race more, bring the pucks behind the ‘D’ and work harder. At the beginning I had a bit of a struggle, but I knew it would get better with time.”
If Hischier thought he struggled at all early on, then say a prayer for the rest of the Quebec League in the second half. He has shown an ability to make plays at high speeds and shift gears to create space for himself and a strong world junior tournament for Switzerland will only bolster his confidence further.
A big fan of Pavel Datsyuk because of the Russian icon’s two-way excellence, Hischier has already knocked off the Czechs and there’s a lot of tournament to go. Not long ago, the Swiss got world junior heroics from Nino Niederreiter, aka ‘El Nino.’ Is the world now ready for ‘El Nico’? We’re about to find out.