As an underager who will first be talked about once the 2017 NHL Draft rolls around, young Nico Hischier was recently Switzerland’s most outstanding player at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Pivoting the first line, the 5’11”, 163-pound forward often wowed the crowd with some spectacular goals and strong overall play in a very creative capacity. Having finished the tournament with three goals and six points for the seventh place Swiss entry, Hischier clearly displayed that he will be the most closely watched Swiss prospect over the next two winters.
Upon conclusion of the tournament, Hockey’s Future had a chance to sit down and chat with the aspiring Swiss forward.
Hockey’s Future: The tournament is now over. What was your impression of the area and the tournament you just played?
Nico Hischier: I had a very nice, but quick, time here in Bratislava and Breclav. It was very hot, but I enjoyed the area and the tight schedule with lots of game play. It’s been a good time.
HF: What did Switzerland learn at this tournament?
NH: Switzerland learned quite a bit. Most of us played for the first time against the best players coming from countries like Canada and Sweden. It was a great opportunity to measure ourselves against that level of play and see where we’re really at.
HF: Did you experience anything here that surprised you?
NH: Coming in we had heard that the level of play is extremely high, because the countries are pretty much bringing all their best guys. And this was basically exactly how it was. That made it all that much more fun.
HF: You already played a top-six role on the second line at the U18, which took place right at your front door in Switzerland. How important was this experience and the fourth place finish in Switzerland for you?
NH: It was an experience that had a huge impact on me, and something I was really excited about. I was able to approach it without any real pressure, because I had been brought on the team to simply experience the event and chip in whatever I could. I could just be there and enjoy it. That we made it all the way to the bronze medal game was just outstanding.
HF: Four months later, what was the difference for you between these two tournaments?
NH: Well, in Switzerland we had a big impact in the tournament. Also, the teams didn’t have all their best players available except for maybe the USA. That was just the opposite here at this tournament, where most of the teams had access to all their best guys, except for maybe the USA.
HF: Manuele Celio was the long-time coach of the U18 team. Now your coach is Thierry Paterlini. Have you already noticed some differences between the two?
NH: It’s naturally a normal thing that coaches have different tactics and that is something I’ve experienced right off the bat. Both are excellent coaches and do their thing tip-top. I’ve enjoyed playing for both.
HF: At the moment, the scouting community can’t identify a current Muller, Fiala, Siegenthaler or Malgin in this group of youngsters. Do you see that differently?
NH: I try not to spend any time thinking about things like that. When I’m playing, I try not to think at all that there are scouts up there who are analyzing us. I just try and concentrate on my game. I try to do what’s asked of me and have fun. I feel that when you have fun, you’re pretty much playing the best you can. That’s what makes the game so enjoyable. Otherwise, I just try to ignore what the media is writing and saying as well.
HF: Timo Meier is a kid coming from Switzerland who recently had a fantastic year in the QMJHL. He was then drafted ninth overall by the San Jose Sharks. Mirco Mueller was a similar story. Dane Nikolaj Ehlers, who spent a good part of his childhood playing in Switzerland, was similar as well. Do you think this is now the right path to take for Swiss players looking to get drafted?
NH: That’s a difficult question to answer. I think it totally depends on the player and what’s important to him at that age. Does he want to get used to playing on the smaller ice surface? Does he just want to gain the experience you can get by living abroad? Does he think playing there can get him more exposure to NHL scouts than taking a European route? There are many ways to the NHL. Going to the Canadian juniors doesn’t guarantee you anything. Surely it was a good path for Timo Meier – maybe the best path possible. Then again, look at guys like Roman Josi and Mark Streit, who didn’t take that route, especially Streit. It’s all up to the individual player.
HF: Are you open to playing in North America as a junior?
NH: I can’t really say right now. I mean, I’d like to talk about it, but I know where I’m playing this season and that’s where I’ll be for now. It’s what I’m concentrating on and we’ll see where things are next summer. I want to improve myself now and then take things step by step.
HF: Where exactly will we be seeing you this winter?
NH: I will be with Bern in the U20 team. Our camp is already up and running. As soon as I get back from this tourney, we’ll have a row of test games.
HF: Mark Streit is from Bern. Is that one of your heroes?
NH: Well, he is from Bern and of course I follow him, but he’s a defenseman, so he’s not one of the guys I’ve always watched carefully.
HF: So do you have another favorite player? Anybody anywhere…
NH: Definitely. Pavel Datsyuk. He has magic hands and he is great defensively. He’s quite the showman, but not without being responsible in all three zones. That’s a guy to look up to.
HF: How would you describe yourself as a player?
NH: I read the play and the game well. I’m a technically adept player who is a good skater for my age. I like to make things happen when I’m on the ice.
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