There are two perceptions of the World Junior Championship and they are, for the most part, accurate. The first is that it’s a 19-year-old tournament. The second is that for draft-eligible players who do play, a bad tournament won’t necessarily hurt them, but a good tournament could do wonders.
Keep that in mind if somehow between now and the June 23 draft in Chicago, Nico Hischier (pronounced HEE-shur) manages to ascend to the status of No. 1 overall pick. If that happens, the seeds for that ascension will have been sown at the World Junior Championship. Hischier’s Swiss team lost a heartbreaking 3-2 game to USA in the quarterfinal, but not for lack of Hischier trying to will his team into the semifinal. He scored two brilliant power play goals and if not for absolute larceny on the part of USA goalie Tyler Parsons late in the game, Hischier would have sent the game to overtime.
USA coach Bob Motzko made no secret of the fact that his team is extremely lucky to be moving on to the semifinal. He also made no secret of his admiration for Hischier.
“(Hischier) was the best player we’ve seen in this tournament,” Motzko said. “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 lockerroom, ‘That’s the best player we’ve seen in the tournament.’ ”
Hischier finished the tournament with four goals and seven points in five games and gave scouts something to think about for the rest of the season. If Hischier can carry this performance over to the rest of his season with the Halifax Mooseheads, it would not be a stretch to suggest that Nolan Patrick’s status as the No. 1 draft prospect would be in jeopardy. Players with that kind of poise and patience around the net, combined with the speed of his feet, hands and mind, are not the kind you find everyday.
“I don’t really think right now about this,” Hischier said of his draft fortunes. “We had a tough loss. I will look forward and now I will go back to Halifax and I have a half season left. I will look at that after the whole season, but not right now.”
Hischier currently sits sixth in Quebec League scoring with 23 goals and 48 points in just 31 games and he’d certainly be vying for top spot if not for the fact that he has been at the World Junior Championship. In fact, his 1.54 goals per game is second in the league only to league scoring leader and Mooseheads teammate Maxime Fortier. And Hischier certainly has a flare for the dramatic. In addition to his two goals in the semifinal, Hischier scored in overtime earlier in the tournament to lift his team to a victory over the Czech Republic and had a six-point game in the Quebec League. His talents have earned him the nickname, ‘The Swiss Connor McDavid,’ something he’s not about to encourage.
“I don’t try to listen to this,” Hischier said. “I mainly try to focus on the hockey and have fun and keep working hard.”
Hischier grew up idolizing Pavel Datsyuk and you can certainly see the similarities when he handles the puck. There were several times during the game when Hischier would get a chance, then jump on the rebound and create another. That was exactly what happened on his second goal, which tied the game six minutes into the third period. Hischier pulled the puck out of a mass of bodies in the crease, brought it back and shot. Then seeing that wouldn’t work, he picked up his rebound, circled the net and scored on a wraparound. Both his goals were spectacular, but it was the one he missed late in the game that will probably keep him up for a couple of nights. But don’t be surprised if Hischier ends up being named one of the tournament’s top three forwards.
“Now, I couldn’t be happy,” Hischier said. “We wanted to get to the semifinal. That was our main goal and all that matters is the team success. And we didn’t have this today, so I’m not really happy.”