BUFFALO -- New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier, selected No. 1 in the 2017 NHL Draft, will have a chance to impress against his peers in the Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter beginning on Friday.
The Buffalo Sabres host the round-robin challenge that includes prospects from the Devils, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. Each team will play three games in four days.
It will mark the first time Hischier (6-foot-1, 176 pounds) will play against top prospects from opposing NHL teams since being drafted, and will give him and many other top players in the pipeline an opportunity to shake off the rust prior to the start of NHL training camp on Sept. 14.
"Obviously when you draft someone first overall, you believe he can bring that skill level to the next level but these types of games are intense and a lot of the times the top picks don't necessarily shine like you think they might because the reality is they're going against kids sometimes 4 years older," Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron said. "The main thing is you want [Hischier] competing and showing the skill you believe he has when you drafted him. Maybe that won't come through every single shift, but it usually comes out at some point."
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Hischier scored 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 57 games for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was named Canadian Hockey League rookie of the year his first season in North America. He impressed Devils management during development camp in July.
"An event like this pulls everyone together in a team-bonding kind of way," Castron said. "Long ago, you went to regular main camp and everybody knew who would make the team based on contracts, but now you're finding that these types of events give those players who might have been drafted outside the first round a chance to impress and force their teams to take an even longer look.
"I like it because development camp is basically a glorified skills camp but now you're actually competing against guys you might actually play again professionally for the next 15 years while learning and trying to get some chemistry with certain players."
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The Devils hope Hischier can establish himself not only at the prospects challenge but in main camp. The loss of center Travis Zajac, who could miss the first four months of the season after having surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle on Aug. 17, has created a hole down the middle. The Devils will no doubt consider all their options to fill the void, including the evaluation of a few rookie forwards capable of taking the next step, and who are competing in the challenge.
The Devils were given the opportunity to select Hischier after winning the NHL Draft Lottery on April 29, and moving up from No. 5 to No. 1 in the first round. New Jersey opens its season against the Colorado Avalanche at Prudential Center on Oct. 7.
"Hischier will be up against solid prospects, like (Bruins defenseman) Charlie McAvoy, who played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs just last year," Castron said. "There's that competitiveness and the pressure of being the first overall pick; everybody will be gunning to shut him down and lay a big check on him. But he has to battle through those things. He went through some of those pressure-type situations at the World Junior Championship for Switzerland."
Defenseman Will Butcher, who signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Devils on Aug. 27, will be making his first appearance with his new team. Butcher (5-10, 190) became a free agent after not signing with the Colorado Avalanche, who selected him in the fifth round (No. 123) of the 2013 draft.
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Here's a list of first- and second-round NHL Draft picks, and notable free agents scheduled to participate in the Prospects Challenge, Sept. 8-11:
Boston Bruins: Forwards Jake DeBrusk (2015, No. 14), Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (2015, No. 45), Zach Senyshyn (2015, No. 15); defensemen Charlie McAvoy (2016, No. 14), Jakub Zboril (2015, No. 13), Jeremy Lauzon (2015, No. 52)
Buffalo Sabres: Forwards Alexander Nylander (2016, No. 8), Justin Bailey (2013, No. 52), Hudson Fasching (Trade from Los Angeles, March 2014)
Pittsburgh Penguins: Forwards Zach Aston-Reese (FA signing, March 2017), Theodor Blueger (2012, No. 52), Daniel Sprong (2015, No. 46); defenseman Zachary Lauzon (2017, No. 51)
New Jersey Devils: Forwards Nico Hischier (2017, No. 1), Michael McLeod (2016, No. 12), Nathan Bastian (2016, No. 41), John Quenneville (2014, No. 30); defensemen Will Butcher (FA signing, August 2017), Michael Kapla (FA signing, March 2017), Yaroslav Dyblenko (FA signing, April 2017), Steven Santini (2013, No. 42), Joshua Jacobs (2014, No. 41); goalie MacKenzie Blackwood (2015, No. 42)