WINDSOR, Ontario -- Ever since the Flyers shot up the selection order at last month’s NHL draft lottery, prospect and Halifax Mooseheads center Nico Hischier has been familiarizing himself with the Flyers' organization.
The Flyers entered the lottery with just a 2.2 percent shot at the first overall pick after finishing the season with a 39-33-10 record but climbed 11 spots from the 13th selection to No. 2 in the draft, which takes place June 23-24 in Chicago.
“I know it’s a sports city — they have the NHL, NBA and all those sports,” Hischier said Saturday at the Memorial Cup. “It’s a really nice city and I know Mark Streit played there and Jakub Voracek played in Halifax as well.”
The Flyers' brass has wasted no time familiarizing themselves with the 18-year-old, who spent this season playing with the Mooseheads in the QMJHL.
“We had already a little meeting together, but I think at combine we’ll see each other again,” said Hischier, who is ranked second amongst North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. “It was just that they want to know me better as a person. They asked me some personal questions and that’s about it.”
A native of Naters, Switzerland, Hischier grew up playing soccer. He was also an avid skier and snowboarder before his older brother, Luca, turned him on to hockey.
“I used to ski a lot,” Hischier said. “First skiing, and then snowboarding, but my brother played hockey, he’s four years older than me, then I just wanted to play hockey as well.”
Last season, Hischier followed his brother to Bern, where he played 15 games in the Swiss pro league with several former NHLers while he was coached by current Senators bench boss Guy Boucher.
The six-foot, 174-pound center registered one assist in his brief stint with the club but gained valuable experience in the process.
“I think that helped me a lot because they’re all older guys and they gave me some good tips, too,” he said. “I really could learn from them and it’s great that I could play with them.
“I think I learned a lot (from Boucher). He brought Canadian hockey to Switzerland, I think. His practices were hard and I could really learn from him.”
Halifax used the sixth selection at last year’s CHL import draft to pick Hischier, and after a little convincing, the lanky forward made the decision to make the move to North America.
“I just came to Canada to try to become a better hockey player and I worked hard,” he said. “I had great teammates, and Halifax is a great organization.”
Adjusting to the smaller rinks in North America admittedly took time for Hischier, but he adapted well leading all CHL rookies in scoring with 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 games. On Saturday, he was named the CHL’s rookie of the year (see story).
“I think I improved my game in the corners,” Hischier said. “You have to dump more pucks over here on North American ice, and chase the puck more behind the net. At the end, I would say my play in the corners (improved the most).”
Growing up, Hischier watched former Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk closely, trying to model his game after the Russian forward.
He spent time this season playing both the wing and center positions and isn’t afraid to go to the net hard despite his slender frame. His offensive talents coupled with his ability to play both ends of the ice is what caused his draft stock jump from 26th on ISS Hockey’s rankings in November to a top-three position in January.
Internationally, Hischier made a splash at this year’s Under-20 world junior tournament in Toronto and Montreal, scoring a team-leading four goals and seven points in five games.
The highlight came in the quarterfinals where Hischier nearly single-handedly upset the Americans, scoring two goals in a 3-2 loss.
The performance led to a glowing review from U.S. coach Bob Motzko.
“He was the best player we’ve seen in this tournament,” Motzko said following the game. “We tried all four lines against him and I thought he was playing every shift because every time he got out there, the ice was tilted. It was the first thing we said when we got into the locker room: ‘That’s the best player we’ve seen in the tournament.’”
After the Mooseheads' first-round playoff exit, Hischier once again donned his country’s colors, registering one assist in five games at the U-18 tournament.
However, he skipped out on an opportunity to represent Switzerland at the senior men’s tournament in favor of relaxation.
“It was really important (to recover),” he said. “I went a couple days away from Switzerland to the beach (in Italy) and just relaxed. It was really great. Had to refill my tank and it was just great.”
Hischier will get another opportunity to meet with the Flyers’ front office this week in Buffalo at the NHL’s scouting combine. It’s believed Hischier could make the jump to the NHL in the fall, but he knows he still has some work to do this summer to make his dream come true.
“Get some pounds on, I want to get stronger,” said Hischier. “I think that’s the most important thing and I work hard towards that.”