New Jersey Devils rookie center Nico Hischier is looking forward to playing against the defenseman he admits was the toughest to beat during their memorable summer skating sessions at PostFinance Arena in Bern, Switzerland.
He'll get that chance against fellow countryman and friend Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators at Prudential Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, FS-TN, NHL.TV).
"I skated with Roman the past two summers in Switzerland," Hischier said. "It was good for me to be able to go out on the ice to help get me ready for Devils training camp. It also helped in the summer of 2016 when I was preparing for my first season in North America in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (for Halifax)."
Hischier also skated with Predators defenseman Yannick Weber of Morges, Switzerland, and former NHL defenseman Mark Streit of Englisberg. The group at the time had an opportunity to practice with SC Bern, the professional team in Switzerland that Hischier once played for at PostFinance Arena.
"There were also times when we had some sessions on our own and with Weber's power-skating coach," Hischier said.
Hischier, 19, the first Switzerland-born player selected No. 1 in the NHL Draft (in 2017), has 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) and 104 shots on goal in 45 games as the Devils top-line center. He's the youngest player in the NHL.
"I always heard about how good [Hischier] was because he was playing in my hometown," Josi said.
Hischier had one goal in 15 games for Bern in National League A in 2015-16, before joining Halifax and winning 2017 Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year.
"When we first got together, I actually didn't know who [Hischier] was but we were practicing and running drills and I was thinking, 'This kid is unreal', so I found out", Josi said. "The skill set at his age is unbelievable. He's going to grow and get stronger. I remember when I was 18, there was no way I could have played in the NHL. Nico is going to be a superstar in this League for a long time."
Josi, chosen in the second round (No. 38) of the 2008 NHL Draft by the Predators, was 21 when he began his NHL career in 2011-12. He looks forward to playing against Hischier in the NHL for the first time.
"It's always fun playing against Swiss guys and it's definitely going to be a lot of fun playing against Nico since he was the first overall pick from the country," Josi said. "That's a huge step for our hockey country and something that's never been accomplished. We're all very proud of Nico in Switzerland, and I'll expect his best game against us.
"It's not going to be easy."
Josi said what stood out most about Hischier when he skated with him last summer was his maturity.
"He's just a really complete player," Josi said. "He skates really well; is explosive. He makes great passes and has a great shot too, so he's got all the tools. Obviously, his hockey sense is off the charts."
The Devils control 49.60 percent of all shots attempted when Hischier is on the ice, a good indication of the impact he has had with his playmaking ability. Hischier has scored three times in his past 10 games, but remains active in other others while averaging 2.31 shots-per game.
"[Josi] is an awesome D-man," Hischier said. "I followed his career growing up and watched a couple games when he was playing in Bern as an 18-year-old. He went to the American Hockey League after that and now is one of the best NHL defenders. He's a great person, and was nice enough to allow me to skate with him."
Hischier has improved in the face-off circle with a 41.1 percent efficiency on 470 attempts. He has won 42.6 percent of face-offs in his past 11 games.
"There are games you watch and you say 'He's on,'" Devils coach John Hynes said. "But the thing that's been most impressive about Nico is his B-game as a 19-year-old is fantastic. Maybe he doesn't push it offensively all the time but he knows how to play without the puck and he can defend well. Sometimes when the puck's not bouncing for him or he's getting checked or things aren't going well, you can play him on the penalty kill, you can play him in the defensive zone.
"To have a guy that young do that night in, night out, is impressive."