Today we look at Nico Hischier (ranked 2nd by most scouting services – ISS, TSN, Craig Button, Dobber, NHL-CSS, FC, Hockey Prospect – but ranked #1 by Recrutes), Swiss forward playing with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Hischier is a center, listed at 6’0”, 175 lbs and has been the go-to guy on a weak Mooseheads team this season. Let’s start with the first thing you see with Hischier: his dynamic skating. His top-end speed is great and he is quite a shifty, elusive skater. The thing that impresses me the most about his skating is how intelligent he is when choosing what speed to go and when. (This was the point of improvement with McLeod’s skating – going “all out” all the time) I think the best way to describe Hischier’s skating a playing style that I heard was how he plays like a snake lurking in the grass.
Hischier’s game is most dependent on his skating and IQ, which makes his game very subtle and difficult to play against. In terms of point production, Hischier finished second on his team in total points with 86 points (38G 48A) in 57 games (while the leading scorer on Halifax is a 19 year old who scored 1 more point in 11 more games played). That’s an average of 1.51 points per game and a 3.13 points per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time. This, in combination with his play off the puck, earned Hischier the QMJHL rookie of the year award. The CHL rookie of the year has not yet been awarded, but Hischier has to be a top contender for that. The fact that he was able to make such an immediate impact despite being so far away from home is all the more impressive. Usually there is a period of adjustment for Europeans coming over to the CHL, but for Hischier this period didn’t exist. According to his coach, “After three days, [the adjustment] was over.” There’s little question as how high his potential upside is.
The Halifax Mooseheads have also gained a bit of a reputation in recent years to churn out high-level offensive talent to the NHL: most notably Jakub Voracek, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Nikolaj Ehlers. Hischier is no different from these types of top-end talent.
Defensively, there really are no concerns in Hischier’s game. His great skating and agility allows him to get in good position to support the more defensive players on the ice. His strength is not in the defensive zone, but he is no liability either. He’s also able to anticipate where plays are going and what kind of breakout he needs to perform. In short, he is the perfect embodiment of the “fast, attacking, supportive” mantra of the New Regime.
It’s also important to note that the Mooseheads were one of, if not, the youngest teams in the entire CHL, and they also had a new head coach for the 2016 season. Between October 26th and November 27th of this season, Hischier contributed to 32 of the team’s 63 goals – 50.79% production was his best stretch of the season, and better than any stretch of Patrick’s season (I won’t bring up Patrick any more in this).
Hischier’s skillset is topped off with a smoothly released shot and an ability to make plays at his top-end speed. I won’t lie when I say that there were times of Hischier’s season where his play reminded me of a Patrik Elias type player. I think Hischier is more suited to play center, but he might start at the wing if the Devils were to draft him. He is NHL-ready, and while his defensive game isn’t as strong as that of our more recent first round draft picks – Zacha and McLeod, but as mentioned before, Hischier’s strength is in his offensive game, skating, creativity, and transition play.
In a vacuum, Hischier checks every box of what we’re looking for as a franchise in terms of franchise-changing offensive talent, skating ability, fast thinking, and supportive play. From recent comments made by director of Amateur Scouting, Paul Castron, it seems that the scouting team is leaning a bit towards Hischier right now – which does make a good amount of sense…the New Regime has placed an emphasis on pure skill rather than a necessarily “safe” pick. Hischier has higher bust potential than other top-projected 2017 draft eligibles, but also has one of the highest ceilings in the entire draft.