“What else can I say? I’m Nico. I love to hockey.” – an NHL star in the making.
The lottery is a complicated, weighted system utilized to determine the order of draft selection and the Devils had a mere 8.517 per cent chance of landing the top pick.
It was numbers. It was chance. Yet you have to wonder if it was also kismet.
“It’s pretty cool how things worked out because this is kind of the second time that I was picked to wear a Devils sweater,” Hischier wrote in The Players’ Tribune Thursday. “When I was nine years old, there was this awesome tournament in Switzerland—whenever your team entered, you got to be a random NHL team. Like with the full jerseys, with a name and number on the back and everything. For the whole tournament, you were that team. It was sick.
“So that year, the team we got was the New Jersey Devils. My mom still has the picture. I’m not so sure about my haircut. But I’m even wearing No. 13.”
The 18-year-old was the most highly touted prospect coming out of Switzerland since Nino Niederreiter was taken fifth overall in 2010. When Hischier joined the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL his stock continued to soar until he became the consensus top prospect.
Hischier was born and raised in southern Switzerland and had trouble finding NHL games to watch on television growing up, so he and his friends would look up highlights online. Hischier’s favourite player was four-time Lady Byng and three-time Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk.
“I really admired the way he played a total two-way game,” Hischier wrote. “He was the best in the league defensively, and he forced so many turnovers, but he still created offensively for his teammates. That’s exactly how I want to play.”
All you have to do is watch Hischier’s first goal of the pre-season and the Datsyukian influence becomes immediately apparent.
When he was 11 years old he travelled to Canada with his youth hockey team to participate in the famed annual International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament in Quebec City.
“It was my first time in North America, and I had never seen an NHL game before,” Hischier wrote. “So our whole team drove to Ottawa to watch the Senators play the Oilers. We were sitting up so high that we could barely see the puck. We were like two seats from the roof. So we just kept trying to look for No. 4 on Edmonton. We were all like, ‘Wow, that guy is a big deal.’”
Of course, No. 4 on the Oilers at the time was Hischier’s current Devils teammate Taylor Hall.
“From where we were sitting, he looked really small,” Hischier wrote. “He was basically just like a blue dot. But we all thought it was so cool.”
It must have been surreal, then, deflecting a Hall pass into the net during a pre-season outing in Montreal against the Canadiens.
Hischier will make his regular-season debut Saturday when the Devils open their season at home against the Colorado Avalanche. It’s a situation the centre never would’ve envisioned back when he retired from hockey…prior to his 10th birthday.
“When I was maybe eight or nine years old, I came home from hockey and told my dad that I was done,” Hischier wrote. “I was having a lot more fun playing soccer and I wanted to do that. I actually told my coach I was done! That was it. Retired. I stopped playing for a whole summer.
“Then, of course, after three months, it got cold again, and I saw all my friends playing hockey, and I told my parents that I was coming out of retirement.”