From an under-the-radar darkhorse to a 50/50 shot at going first overall, Nico Hischier has had a meteoric rise this season. The word perhaps most commonly used to describe him: electric. Lightning quick, and oozing skill and finesse, Hischier has top line point producer written all over him.
The dichotomy between Hischier and Nolan Patrick is a fascinating one. Unlike Patrick, Hischier is not necessarily what we’d consider a “complete player”. He has holes in his game, and he lacks size and physicality. On the other hand, Hischier provides unbridled skill and plenty of flash, and bests Patrick in the categories of speed and agility – hallmarks of today’s game. Neither is a poor choice at first overall – but for the time being, we’ve got Hischier pegged at number 2.
- Age: 18 – January 4th, 1999
- Birthplace: Naters, SUI
- Frame: 6’1″ / 179 lbs
- Position: Centre
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: Halifax Mooseheads
- Accomplishments/Awards: QMJHL Rookie of the Year, QMJHL All-Rookie Team, QMJHL Best Professional Prospect (16/17); Elite Jr. A Chamption (15/16); Elite Novizen Chamption (14/15); Elite Novizen Champion (13/14)
Adjusted Scoring (SEAL)
Hischier’s point rate was one of the more impressive ones among draft eligible players, but he takes a bit of a hit here. First, he’s not exactly young for this draft class, with an early January birthday. Second, he plays in the QMJHL, whose players have a yesterday of producing at lower rates in subsequent professional leagues. On the other hand, he makes up some of the lost ground with very solid situational scoring. His per game rates are in nearly the 100th percentile for all types of situational production, from even strength goals all the way to short handed assists.
Cohort Based (pGPS)
As impressive as Hischier’s season was, pGPS is always going to be distrustful of high scoring QMJHL prospects. That’s just because there have been so many surefire studs in the QMJHL that have gone on to do bupkis in the NHL. By that token, Hischier’s expected success percentage of 52% is actually very impressive. He also has an expected production rate of 59 points per 82 games. Steve Bernier, Alex Tanguay, Antoine Vermette and Jason Pominville are among his most similar successful matches, with Brad Richards and Vinny Damphousse being among the most productive in the NHL. The system expects him to be a top six forward, with more 1st line matches that any other designation.
A smooth-skating, playmaking center…good skating agility and top speed, but is more quick than fast…is able to make quick turns and displays good lateral movement…not big or strong, but still shows willingness to take hits and battle for space…goes into board battles and uses his body to fight for pucks…excellent playmaking instincts, vision and passing skills…puts puck where his linemates can best utilize the chance…an incredible stickhandler who thrives in possession and can make defenders look foolish…competitive and driven…poise is a major standout attribute…dangerous when given time, especially on the power play as he takes full control of the play from the half wall with the puck, using his impressive agility, hands and vision to make plays…plays a responsible defensive game…one of the best talents to come out of Switzerland.
From the Hockey Prospect Black Book (Excerpt from publication):
The Swiss prospect is an ultra-intelligent centreman, he plays a very mature game in all three zone and can play the game in every situation. He needs to add some strength to his frame, but Hischier has a compete level and will not hesitate to get his nose dirty in front of the net. Hischier skates well and has a surprising burst of speed that he use to catch opponents off guard when rushing the puck. He sees the ice well, is more of a passer than a shooter, and he does a great job feeding pucks to his linemates. He’s one of the smartest players in this draft class, and he makes quick decisions with the puck on his stick. On the PK, even if he’s a scoring star, he won’t hesitate to block shots, and plays a real unselfish style of game. Hischier is ready for the NHL.
From the ISS NHL Draft Guide (Excerpt from publication):
Hischier started the year looking like a good NHL prospect, by Christmas it was clear that he was much, much more than just a “good” prospect. He is a very competitive two-way player who is dynamic with the puck on his stick and an offensive threat whenever he stepped on the ice. His hockey sense, puck skills, skating and a competitive nature with regards to both playmaking and goal scoring abilities are as good as any player in the draft.
From Corey Pronman of ESPN (Excerpt only – full article behind pay wall):
He’s the complete package offensively. He’s a very good skater, with the ability to be dangerous due to his first step and top gear but particularly due to how elusive he is from a standstill. Hischier is a creative puck handler who can dictate possession with his skill and often stands out with how he can generate offense with his creativity. However, his best trait is his hockey sense. He anticipates pressure so well, moves the puck into the right places and outsmarts defenders.
From Craig Smith of McKeen’s Hockey (Excerpt only – full article behind pay wall):
He is the most exciting player in the draft to watch. The skills he displays on a nightly basis graded high and it is reasonable to expect his physicality to improve. He has a chance to be one of the few impact players that come out of this draft. There is a slim but not impossible chance he supplants Nolan Patrick as the number one pick.
Phenomenal Swiss import who was every bit as advertised during a banner rookie season in the Quebec league. Hischier is an elite center with off-the-charts puck artistry and swift skating that combine into a lethal package. Sly and dangerous, he can strike at a moment’s notice. His agility and escapability are unmatched among draft peers, and at 18 years old his hockey sense is on par with the world’s best young players of any level. And he’s far from just a finesse player — Hischier is a fierce competitor who hates losing whether it’s a one-on-one puck battle or a seven-game series. He can kill penalties, lend support down low and do his best at physically moving opponent’s off the puck. Hischier has a good, accurate shot but it’s the way he fakes and jukes that makes beating goalies all the more simple. Blessed with sick hands, poise and a keen sixth sense, he is next to unstoppable once he takes the puck below the hashmarks. Is ready for the NHL as we speak and should be groomed for a leadership role as he ascends the ladder of stardom.
Nico Hischier is an amazing player to watch. It has been a fantastic season for him on a number of different levels. Nine months ago, I had him ranked ninth to start the season. As the year began to progress, Hischier began to rise more and more. By the time the World Junior Championships were concluded, Hischier was firmly entrenched in the top five, and the CHL Top Prospects Game seemed to seal his fate as a top two pick. No matter the setting, and no matter how bright the spotlight, Hischier always rose to the occasion.
The term “electric” is frequently applied to Hischier, and I think it’s an appropriate one. The Swiss centres speed and acceleration are top notch, but his agility is what really stands out. He has the decidedly rare ability to make players miss him even from a standstill, and on the move, he has such precise control over his constantly shifting speed that his opponents are constantly left off guard. He has elite playmaking ability built on extraordinary vision and soft hands. While he plays more like a distributor, he possesses numerous different plus-level shots, all of which are fueled by intelligence and deception, and find their way to the back of the net with power and accuracy. He’s also diligent defensively, positionally sound, and will always put the needs of the team before his own.
If there are any areas in which Hischier needs to improve, it is those related to the physical side of the game. Nobody expects a high level talent like this to go around throwing hits – rather this is about the ability to shrug off man-sized defenders and win space on the ice. While he can work his way through opponents with ease now, space only gets smaller as he moves up levels. This shouldn’t be a major worry though – Hischier has an intense competitive spirit and the willingness to play in high danger areas already. While Nolan Patrick (and perhaps even Cody Glass or Gabriel Vilardi) will likely have an easier time adjusting to the NHL at first, it won’t be long until Hischier is on even or superior footing.
Stylistically, Hischier has been compared to Pavel Datsyuk, which is highly appropriate, given that Hischier revealed at the NHL Combine that Datsyuk was his favourite player and someone that he has modeled his game after.
One thing that I see from scouts and analysts a lot is “sure, [insert prospect here] is good, but I’ve never seen him really take over a game.” Well, Hischier does exactly that, and he does it a lot. The teams that he predominantly played for this season (the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, and Switzerland’s U20 and U18 squads) were not good teams. The Swiss are a perpetual underdog at international events, and yet in the quarter finals, they nearly upset the eventually champions, the Americans, on the back of Nico Hischier alone.
The Mooseheads were a demonstrably poor team that only made the QMJHL playoffs because all but two teams do – they were 15th in an 18-team league but a minus-29 goal differential. That could have been a whole lot worse had they not picked up Hischier 6th overall in the CHL Import Draft in June of 2016. With Hischier on the ice, the Mooseheads had a 58.1% Goals-For percentage. When he wasn’t playing, that dropped to 40.1%, leaving him with a whopping GF%rel of +18%, one of the best among draft eligible players.
That extended to each individual teammate as well, as Hischier didn’t have much assistance in trying to keep his team above water. Maxime Fortier, his most frequent linemate (81% share of Hischier’s on-ice 5-on-5 events) sunk like an anchor without Hischier keeping him afloat. The same can be said of most of his other teammates. Among common linemates, only Connor Moynihan managed to stay above 50% away from Hischier. No one did better without him than with him.
Hischier also inflated his teammates’ point rates at even strength, in particular Fortier and winger Arnaud Durandeau. When they weren’t on the ice with Hischier, there weren’t many other decent options in Halifax.
Hischier also gets top marks for his off-ice behaviour, his mentality, his personality, and his dedication to the game. As a 17-year old, he made the decision to come to North America and play in the CHL, rather than continue in the Swiss league in his draft year. According to Hischier himself, this decision was based on what he thought was best for his development. “I knew there were more scouts and all that, but the main reason that I came over is to [be] a better hockey player.”
“If you pick top five that means you have to build your team around that player,” says Halifax head coach Andre Tourigny. “I would be so happy to build my team around him for the next 20 years…a person like Hischier…a player like Hischier. Nico is such a good man, good heart. He’s very polite, respectful, I’ve spoken to his parents and I can’t say enough about the values. A lot of reasons why he’d be a really, really good pick.”
Seven days from now, one NHL team will make Nico Hischier a part of their future – and he’s likely to be a very large part. Whether that will be first overall or second is anybody’s guess at this point. But even though we’ve ranked him second on our list, you really can’t go wrong by taking either Hischier or Patrick at number 1.
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