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NHL Draft

2017 Draft: Nico Hischier enhanced standing at WJC

Switzerland-born center had seven points in five games, tops QMJHL rookies in goals

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2017 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Center Nico Hischier already was viewed as a potential first-round pick at the 2017 NHL Draft. His play for Switzerland at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship might have cemented his spot there.

Hischier, a 6-foot-1, 176-pound center, led all 2017 NHL Draft-eligible players with four goals and seven points in five games. He scored in overtime against Czech Republic in the preliminary round, then had two goals and barely missed at a third late in the third period of a 3-2 loss against the United States in the quarterfinals.

After the game against the U.S., a number of media outlets called him the Swiss Connor McDavid. U.S. coach Bob Motzko called Hischier the best player his team had faced after five games of the tournament, and that included preliminary-round games against Canada and Russia.

"I don't try to listen to this, I just focus on my hockey," Hischier said.

Hischier credits the experience he gained while playing on the larger ice surface in National League A, Switzerland's top professional league, as a 17-year-old against older players last season as a key part in his development. He had one goal in 15 games with Bern.

He said older players on the team, including his brother Luca, provided valuable lessons on how to succeed at the next level.

"The older guys gave me good tips; I took a lot from practicing and playing there," Hischier said. "One player told me that when I get to North America don't get stuck in the corners. Try and keep my feet moving because that was the key on the smaller ice. So I try to spin away a lot."

The advice has helped him this season as he's moved to Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which had chosen him with the sixth pick of the 2016 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft in June. He leads QMJHL rookies with 26 goals and 54 points in 33 games; he leads Halifax in goals and plus-minus (plus-17), and is tied for the team lead with eight power-play goals.

Hischier is an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list for the 2017 draft.

"There is very little he doesn't do well," said Central Scouting's Troy Dumville, who specializes in QMJHL prospects. "His hockey sense is elite. It wasn't surprising that he played at even a higher level with more experienced players at the World Juniors. It wouldn't surprise me if he's the second Swiss player in three years to go top 10 in the draft."

Video: WJC Preliminary Round Highlights: SUI 4, CZE 3

The last Switzerland-born player to be chosen in the top 10 was right wing Timo Meier, selected by the San Jose Sharks with the ninth pick in 2015. Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter is the highest NHL-drafted player born in Switzerland; he was selected by the New York Islanders with the fifth pick of the 2010 draft.

Former NHL defenseman Tommy Albelin, an assistant coach for Switzerland at the 2017 WJC, said he believes Hischier will develop into an effective NHL player.

"I think he's been good but there's still room for improvement and that's exciting," Albelin said. "If he can play like that in the World Juniors and still be able to improve a little bit, and by improvement I'm talking about his defensive game with stick positioning and battles around the net, he's going to be a special player."

Albelin said the experience Hischier gained playing in the top league in Switzerland was great, but that spending a season with Halifax will be equally beneficial.

"In Europe you still have time when you get the puck," he said. "You don't have to have your options ready and you can take your time and assess the options. In the NHL, if you don't know where the puck is going, it's too late."

Hischier plays center, his preferred position, with Halifax.

"I can play my game," he said. "I want to play really good defense and I think as a center you have a greater role in the defensive zone. But I also want to create some offense and be a good playmaker."

Hischier said his favorite NHL players to watch are Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby. He also admired the skill and creativity of former Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk.

"Hischier is already good in the faceoff circle, but his best asset is probably his understanding of the game, his off-the-chart vision," said NHL Central Scouting's Thomas Roost, who evaluates players in Switzerland and Germany. "He finds passing lanes that other players can't. His decisions are usually smart and his positioning is already that of an experienced pro. Nico is very competitive, plays with heart and has underrated grit. He definitely plays bigger than his size."

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