Nico Hischier has made a strong case for becoming a full-time NHL player with the New Jersey Devils this season after being selected No. 1 in the 2017 NHL Draft on June 23.
That shouldn't come as a shock, considering the No. 1 pick in each of the previous 10 NHL drafts has played in at least half of his team's regular-season games the following season. But there was speculation about the NHL readiness of Hischier, a center who's a native of Switzerland, because he played one season in North America, with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2016-17.
Hischier allayed any doubts and impressed his coaches during the preseason with seven points (four goals, three assists) and 11 shots on goal in four games. His intelligence in finding space, and his speed and willingness to be an effective 200-foot player, were obvious assets.
"He might look a little small, but he's elusive, quick, he competes, and he can make plays when under pressure or when there's a body on him," Devils coach John Hynes said. "We don't expect him to be something he's not. It's important for players to understand we know who they are as players, and we're not going to put him in situations he can't handle."
If Hischier remains with the Devils all season, he's likely to be a strong candidate for the Calder Trophy.
A panel of 17 NHL.com writers voted for their Calder Trophy leader prior to the start of the regular season, and the consensus was that Hischier will be the first Switzerland-born player to be named the League's rookie of the year. Hischier received 59 points and four first-place votes. Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy was second with 52 points (five first-place votes), and Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller was third with 40 (three first-place votes). Philadelphia Flyers forward Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, was fourth with 27 points (two first-place votes).
"NHL clubs want to position their top prospects to succeed, and for [Hischier], he has obvious skating, skills and smarts to compete for an NHL roster spot, and he is such a high-character, driven and motivated competitor that he will do everything he can to earn a spot," Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, said.
Before Hischier joined Halifax, he had one goal in 15 games last season with Bern of National League A in Switzerland, the league where Auston Matthews gained valuable pro experience before being selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft. Matthews won the Calder Trophy last season.
"One player told me that when I get to North America, don't get stuck in the corners," said Hischier, who is 6-foot-1, 176 pounds. "Try and keep my feet moving because that was the key on the smaller ice. So I try to spin away a lot.
"I want to make a good impression, be ready right from the beginning, show my two-way game and help my team as best I can."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Nico Hischier, Devils, 59 points (four first-place votes); Charlie McAvoy, Bruins, 52 points (5); Clayton Keller, Coyotes, 40 points (3); Nolan Patrick, Flyers, 27 points (2); Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks, 26 points (2); Joshua Ho-Sang, New York Islanders, 9 points; Joel Eriksson Ek, Minnesota Wild, 8 points; Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators, 7 points (1); Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning, 5 points; Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks, 5 points; Tyson Jost, Colorado Avalanche, 4 points; Dylan Strome, Coyotes, 4 points; Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets, 4 points; Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals, 2 points; Julius Honka, Dallas Stars, 2 points; Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets, 1 point