CHICAGO — With the first-overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, the New Jersey Devils selected Nico Hischier, and as the German-speaking Swiss said afterward, his heart rate hit a new high.
“I was fine this morning, but then as soon as I got to the rink, my pulse went up and stayed there,” he said. “And now I have a new pulse max. On the ice I’m not reaching anywhere near what my pulse was tonight after hearing my name called.”
As he spoke, Hischier kept looking down at the logo on the front of his jersey, as if making sure everything had really happened. “It was just an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “I can’t describe it, but I’m so happy.”
His mom, Katja, thought maybe it was a mistake as she teared up while hugging her youngest son. His father, Rino, who brought a picture of Nico in a Devils jersey from a tournament when he was 9 years old for good luck, couldn’t believe the emotions he felt as he watched his son achieve his dream of being drafted into the NHL, and at No. 1.
“For us, before we celebrate Nico, it’s very important to say thank you to all of the organizations and all of the people that have helped Nico and us to improve him as a hockey player,” Rino Hischier said. “It’s very, very important. His billet families — my sister in Bern and the Phillips family in Halifax — they are great people and he would not be here without them.”
The highest ever Swiss-born player to be selected in the NHL Draft agreed.
“Swiss Ice Hockey does a lot to develop players,” Hischier said, “and there are a lot of guys who helped me get here — coaches and other players — and Halifax is a first-class organization. I had awesome billets and my teammates helped me so much. I didn’t do this by myself.”
Those are humble words from a player whom many could argue has the ability to singlehandedly take over a game.
“Nico can certainly score, but he also has great playmaking abilities, and the ability to make other players better,” said Devils general manager Ray Shero. “He was so impressive at world juniors and U-18s, but especially with what he was able to do at Halifax in helping them make the playoffs as a young team and really driving that team and how he was able to make a difference. It’s a great accomplishment by him and hopefully he can help us do the same in the future.”
According to his parents, it isn’t so much a competitive spirit that motivates Nico to find this level of success, but rather a desire to learn and do things to the best of his abilities.
“He saw his sister playing the piano, so he wanted to play the piano,” his father said. “He saw his brother playing hockey and he wanted to play hockey, but it wasn’t just wanting to play. He wanted to learn everything about it and he wouldn’t stop until he could do it and do it well. When Nico has a goal, he practices and improves himself and we just encouraged him to try to do his best and to always have fun.”
Hischier, who put his phone on airplane mode when he entered the green room prior to the draft so he could focus on enjoying the moment with his family, knows he has a lot of work ahead of him this summer to put himself in a position to play in the NHL this season.
But he’s ready for it.
“I’m going to enjoy this moment tonight and tomorrow,” he said. “But I’ll be back in the gym on Monday. I’m going to do everything I can to be on this team out of training camp. We’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m just so happy.”
Shero says he’ll have every opportunity to make the Devils team this season.
“He’s got the smarts and he’s got size and certainly the skill to make it, so we’re looking forward to having him at development camp and seeing him again at training camp in September,” he said. “He’ll be a big part of turning this team around, because he’s going to make us a better team and a better organization.
“And I know he’s going to represent us as well off the ice as he will on it, because he’s an incredible kid and I’m thrilled he’s on our team.”