Nico Hischier hails from God’s country.
Well, not exactly but if you’ve been to the area in southern Switzerland near the Italian border where he grew up, you may not want to ever leave.
Naters, Switzerland and the surrounding area is in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Most elite athletes from there end up skiing. There are literally dozens of mountains all more than 10,000 feet in elevation, highlighted by the Matterhorn, which is about 15 minutes away from the town where Hischier grew up.
“I used to ski,” said the 18-year-old Halifax Mooseheads forward, before stifling a laugh, “but not anymore.”
The inference was obvious – he’s too busy playing hockey. And playing it so breathtakingly well, he’s emerged as a potential top pick in the 2017 Draft.
“There really is little that he can’t do,” said Mooseheads head coach Andre Tourigny, who arrived in Halifax with his prized pupil in the fall. “His play (at the World Junior) is not a surprise for us. He excels in every situation for us, he’s easy to coach, and he competes so hard in every situation.
“I’ve never seen a 17-year-old (Hischier turned 18 on Jan. 4th) pay so much attention to the unsung details.”
As the World Junior fades farther into the rearview mirror, it becomes a bit clearer how much Hischier’s performance was similar to former Portland WinterHawk Nino Niederreiter seven years earlier.
Niederreiter , who now plays for the Minnesota Wild, parlayed an incredible performance at the 2010 World Junior in Saskatoon, leading Switzerland to semi-final appearance, into a fifth overall selection by the New York Islanders. That selection remains the highest for a Swiss player but one that Hischier is poised to best this summer in Chicago.
“I don’t really think about it because I’m in the middle of a long season,” he said. “When the season is over, the NHL Draft is something I can think about then.”
Others are doing plenty to thinking about the Draft and Hischier’s status in it.
“He’s been terrific, he’s such a great playmaker and he really has that (chemistry) with Max Fortier,” said Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief, of Hischier’s dynamic partnership with his Mooseheads teammate.
“Really the only question is that he has a lot of growing up to do physically.”
Wooodlief’s sentiment was acknowledged as well by Tourigny and Hischier himself. Tourigny says that the Swiss’s natural physical maturation should take care of any concerns the grind of pro hockey will represent.
“I’m working on it,” said Hischier, of getting stronger.
For now, the focus is leading his Team Orr and the opportunity that the Sherwin Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game represents.
“It’s very important game for me to play there in a great (stage) like that, it was part of the reason why I wanted to come to Canada,” he said. “I’m just very excited to play in it.”
Written by Peter Robinson