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Hischier continues to make his case with Devils

No. 1 pick at 2017 NHL Draft gets goal, assist in preseason win against Senators

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

SUMMERSIDE, Prince Edward Island -- Center Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, continues to impress in his bid to make the New Jersey Devils.

In his stiffest test to date Monday, on the road against a quality lineup from an Ottawa Senators team that reached the Eastern Conference Final last season, Hischier had perhaps his strongest game with a goal and an assist in an 8-1 win at Credit Union Place in the 2017 Kraft Hockeyville Canada game.

Hischier insisted before the game that he is simply trying to get stronger every day and prove he belongs.

 

[RELATED: Devils' youth on full display in win at Hockeyville]

 

"It's the best league in the world, so everything is higher; the pace, the speed," Hischier said. "You have to be prepared to play in this league."

So far, Hischier's preparation hasn't been lacking. He has three goals in three games and shares the Devils' preseason goal-scoring lead with Pavel Zacha, a second-year player, and veteran Drew Stafford.

Stafford, 31, is new to the Devils, but he has been around the League since 2006 with the Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets and Boston Bruins. He sees the potential for some good things in the foundation of Hischier's game.

Stafford played right wing on Hischier's line for the first time Monday. Marcus Johansson was on the left, and the three combined for five goals and nine points.

"For him at that age -- I think he is 14 years old -- he goes to the net and he already has it and it'll get better," Stafford said. "His willingness to learn and listen [is key]. He knows the expectation from the outside, but he does a good job of ignoring the noise and the hype. I think he has realistic expectations of what he can provide and bring to the team.

"It's a small sample size, but it's just his battle level and compete on pucks."

Video: NJD@OTT: Hischier tips in his third preseason goal

Stafford pointed out a penalty kill during the game and marveled at the details he saw from Hischier: the placement of his stick, the positioning of his feet and his ability to come back on pucks in the defensive zone.

Others have noticed other things. Devils goaltender Cory Schneider faces Hischier on a near-daily basis in practice.

"He's very creative," Schneider said. "He reads and anticipates the game very well. He seems like he is a step ahead of some guys sometimes with what he wants to do with the puck, where he wants to be on the ice."

Hischier showed that in his assist Monday. He had a shooting lane, but the pass was the higher-percentage play and he made a perfect one to Stafford on a 2-on-1 break.

"He's got incredible hockey sense," Devils coach John Hynes said. "His ability to read the game and be one step ahead is excellent. He is very competitive on the puck and at the puck for a young player.

"Coming into this league, that was probably going to be the biggest adjustment. But he seems like he can elevate. His work ethic and coachability are fantastic."

For Hischier, 18, navigating the nuances of the pro game off the ice may be the most difficult part of his transition. He is no longer among players around his age.

Now, he is in a room almost devoid of teenagers, filled with men who have accomplishments in the NHL and have been seasoned by its grind from day to day and season to season. His ability to fit into that world without much difficulty has left a positive impression on his teammates.

Video: NJD@OTT: Phillips discuss Nico Hischier's character

"Obviously, he is still learning," Schneider said. "It's his first training camp and we are not going to sit here and put unrealistic expectations on him, but he has fit in. That's hard to do. He's gone about his business and hasn't tried to do too much. I think he understands who he is and what he has to do, and that has been impressive to watch."

What the future holds for Hischier remains to be seen. Will he make the Devils roster out of training camp? Will he last with them all season? Will he be sent back to his junior team, Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League?

Hischier doesn't know and doesn't fully control that decision. So, he refuses to worry about it.

"I just take day for day," Hischier said. "Tomorrow is a new day. I just try to work hard, help the team every day and be part of this team. I'm trying to not look too far forward. I can't control what is going to happen."

So far, he has done an outstanding job of controlling the part of the equation for which he is responsible.

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