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2017 Draft: Nico Hischier staying humble

Halifax forward, potential No. 1 pick defers credit to teammates for successful first season in North America

by Guillaume Lepage @GLepageLNH / LNH.com Staff Writer

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- His name is on everyone's lips here and his game makes NHL scouts salivate, with several among them thinking he might be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

But you won't hear any of that coming from Nico Hischier.

The forward for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is used to the routine at this point. He comes out of the dressing room, stands in front of the wall showing all of the Mooseheads' first-round draft picks, players like Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche (No. 1, 2013) and Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 3, 2013), and gets prepared to face another barrage of questions.

Hischier, a native of Naters, Switzerland, has answered these questions several times, in German and in English, everywhere he has played this season. The rookie has scored 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 57 games in his first season in North America. He also led Halifax with seven points (three goals, four assists) in six playoff games. Hischier won Rookie of the Year and the Mike Bossy Trophy as the best professional prospect in the QMJHL.

However, personal statistics don't mean much to Hischier. He humbly answers questions about his success and gives credit to his team.

"My teammates help me a lot," he said when asked to evaluate his season. "I do everything for the team."

That last line can be taken two different ways, because Hischier has indeed done everything this season for the Mooseheads, the youngest team in the QMJHL. And unlike him, Hischier's teammates have no problem pointing that out.

"Nico is an incredible player," linemate Maxime Fortier said. "He does everything well. He is so strong offensively and defensively, with or without the puck. He's also very smart and you can see that on the ice."

That might be Hischier's greatest asset. He is a strong skater who plays on the power play and the penalty kill, and is just as likely to score a highlight reel goal as he is to steal the puck from an opponent.

"He plays a complete game, he's not one dimensional," Halifax general manager Cam Russell said. "He's got world-class skills, great hands, great vision, but he's also our best defensive player. When you have a player that is your most skilled and basically your best player on the team, and he's also your best defensive player, it provides great leadership for your younger players."

Playing 15 games for SC Bern in National League A, Switzerland's top professional men's league, last season has helped Hischier (6-foot-1, 176 pounds) adapt to the North American game. He needed to wait five games before scoring his first goal of the season but took off in November with 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) in 11 games.

"When the points weren't coming earlier in the season I remember telling him, 'You have all the talent in the world, just be patient and it will take off at some point,'" Fortier said. "He didn't really need any more help after that."

Hischier likely will become the highest drafted Swiss player ever, supplanting Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter, the No. 5 pick of the New York Islanders in the 2010 draft. But the possibility of going No. 1 was probably born at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he helped Switzerland into the quarterfinal round against the United States with seven points (four goals, three assists) in five preliminary-round games.

A large part of Hischier's success this season can be attributed to his attitude. He didn't leave his family and friends behind to be a passenger in Halifax. 

"I didn't have any expectations," Hischier said. "I just wanted to come over and have fun and improve as a hockey player."

Named an alternate captain at the start of the season, Hischier had a positive influence on his younger teammates even though he was 17-years-old when he arrived in Halifax.

"Having a player like Nico helps a lot, but having a person like Nico helps us even more," coach Andre Tourigny said. "From the way he prepares to the way he works to the way he practices he couldn't be a better role model for our guys.

"It's happened often where I'll ask our younger players, 'Do you see what Nico is doing?' They have to follow his example."

Russell said he made a calculated risk counting on Hischier to contribute immediately, but that risk has paid off.

"He's one of the best people I've ever met," he said.

And if Hischier has trouble giving himself credit for his on-ice exploits, he is at least able to recognize one thing he did well.

"It was a hard decision for me to come to Canada but I really wanted to and I think it's the best way to become a better hockey player," Hischier said. "I'm 100 percent happy with my decision."

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