With Nico Hischier drafted first overall, Swiss players have new inspiration to reach the NHL.
Only 35 players of Swiss descent have ever played in the NHL, starting with Paul DiPietro in 1992. Some of the more prominent Swiss players currently in the league include defensemen Mark Streit and Roman Josi, and forward Nino Niederreiter, who was drafted fifth overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. At the time, that was the highest a Swiss player had ever been selected, but that changed in 2017 when the New Jersey Devils picked 18-year-old forward Nico Hischier with the first overall draft pick.
Hischier, who was born in Naters, Switzerland in 1999, has an impressive resume under his belt already, scoring 86 points in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. He was the recipient of the 2017 Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year Award and, additionally, he collected seven points in five games at the 2017 World Junior Championships.
(Photo by David Banks, USA Today Sports)
These strong performances were enough to vault him into the top prospects list. The Devils, who had only an 8.5% chance of selecting the first overall pick after finishing in a tie with the Arizona Coyotes for the third-fewest points the previous season, chose him without hesitation.
Devils general manager Ray Shero described Hischier as “a heck of a piece to our team we never thought we’d have a chance to get at the end of the season” in a June press conference. Hischier has already proven himself to be more than capable in the Devils’ preseason games, where he scored four goals and assisted on three more in only four games. After his third preseason contest, Devils coach John Hynes said of the Swiss sensation, “his ability to read the game and be one step ahead is excellent. He is very competitive on the puck…for a young player.”
The young forward’s success is making other Swiss stars hopeful that more players in their home country will start making the leap to the NHL. “It gives you confidence a little bit, you know? One guy, then two guys, then three guys. You get more motivation and confidence in yourself that you can do it, too. Right now, we get a number one pick. It should motivate even more guys in Switzerland,” said forward Kevin Fiala of the Nashville Predators.
Fiala, alongside Roman Josi and defenseman Yannick Weber, lost in the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals to their countryman Mark Streit and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Streit, who had made history as the first Swiss NHL captain when he led the Islanders from 2011 to 2013, became just the third player born in Switzerland, and the fourth of Swiss ancestry, to hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice.
When it came to Hischier, Streit said that “he’s a hell of a hockey player and certainly great for Swiss hockey.”
As of the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season, there are fifteen active Swiss players in the league. Joining Hischier on the Devils is Mirco Mueller, a 22-year-old defenseman who has accumulated six points in 54 games with the San Jose Sharks. The Devils added a Swiss goalie when they drafted Gilles Senn with the 129th pick of the 2017 draft. Another Swiss player, defenseman Tobias Geisser, was selected with the 120th pick by the Washington Capitals. At least two draft picks per year since 2010 have been used on Swiss players, including four picks in both 2013 and 2015. Certainly, with Hischier to act as a role model to younger players, the country can become more of a hockey hotbed.
The Devils certainly need all the help they can get in the coming season. They finished the last season with a 3-17-4 record after February 18, with two of the three victories coming in overtime. Ten points in twenty-four games is unacceptable, and if they want to even have a chance at competing for a playoff spot in a loaded Metropolitan division, they’ll need Hischier to have another breakout year. He might not have quite an impact as the previous two first-overall picks, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, who respectively scored 48 points in 45 games and 69 points in 82 games during their rookie campaigns, but barring injury, he should put up solid numbers.
No matter how he performs, he’s going to be an inspiration for Switzerland’s next generation of stars, and there could be another Swiss native drafted as high as he was sooner than many might think.
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- 1999 Buffalo Sabres
- 2006 Edmonton Oilers
- 2012 Los Angeles Kings
- 2017 Nashville Predators