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NHL Draft

Mark Streit, Nico Hischier represent evolution of Swiss hockey

Success of veteran defenseman, top prospect shows growth of sport in country

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

NASHVILLE -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mark Streit has been a part of some of the greatest moments in his native Switzerland's hockey history at the Olympics, the IIHF World Championship and simply by becoming an excellent NHL defenseman.

He fully recognizes how he is in the process of being part of another big moment for Swiss hockey.

Not only is Streit one of four Swiss players on the rosters of the two Stanley Cup Final teams, there is a possibility that forward prospect Nico Hischier will be the first Switzerland native to be selected with the No. 1 pick at the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas in Chicago on June 23 and 24.

Hischier played for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and is ranked second to Brandon center Nolan Patrick on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.

Video: Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier on the Combine, Draft

Streit, and Nashville Predators defensemen Roman Josi and Yannick Weber, all hail from Bern and train together in the offseason, where Hischier's older brother Luca plays professional hockey in the Swiss league.

"We skated two or three times with him last summer and you could tell he's a hell of a player," Streit said. "He was only 16 or 17 back then and highly skilled. But there are other skilled guys out there, the thing with him is his hockey sense, just the game, how he plays it and how he reads it. It's impressive, and I think he showed it this year.

"He's a hell of a hockey player and certainly great for Swiss hockey."

Hischier, Patrick and fellow top prospects Casey Mittelstadt and Gabriel Vilardi made the traditional trip to the Stanley Cup Final on Monday to watch Game 4 between the Penguins and Predators, a 4-1 Nashville victory that tied the best-of-7 series 2-2 heading into Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

In addition to Streit, Josi and Weber, injured Predators forward Kevin Fiala is also from Switzerland, so with Hischier here Monday it made five people from that country in Bridgestone Arena someway connected to the Stanley Cup Final, representing in some ways the past, present and future of Swiss hockey.

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverage | NHL Draft coverage]

 

"I just said, 'Hi,' to Roman and he recognized me, so it was pretty fun," Hischier said Monday. "It's just great to see Swiss hockey players playing for the Cup. It's amazing for them. I'm really happy for them."

Even if Hischier is not taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft he is all but assured of being the highest chosen Swiss player ever, a distinction held by Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter, who was selected by the New York Islanders with the No. 5 pick in 2010.

It is a path to the NHL that was in large part paved by Streit when he debuted with the Montreal Canadiens in 2005, showing a nation of hockey players that it was a realistic dream.

"Growing up, when I was maybe 17 or 18, the NHL was so far away," Streit said. "It was another dimension, another planet, another universe. I think that was part of the problem mentally. It's like when you see Mount Everest and nobody's ever climbed it, then one guy does it and the mental thing is, 'Hey, it's possible.' We had a few pioneers with Marty Gerber and David Aebischer, two goalies, and a few players that went and came back and finally I established myself."

Weber and Josi fit the mold Streit created, that of an undersized defenseman with good offensive skills who were suddenly valued when the NHL turned toward more of a speed and skill game just as Streit entered the League in 2005.

"For me," Weber said, "[Streit] was always the guy who showed me that it was possible."

If Streit first showed making the NHL is possible for Swiss players, Josi is hoping Hischier can show a new generation that they can excel in North America and have nothing to be afraid of.

"He's extremely skilled, he's calm with the puck and seems like a really great kid too," Josi said. "It would be great for Switzerland if he could go first overall."

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