Nico Hischier, the N.H.L.’s Top Draft Pick, Takes a Long Route From the Alps to the Devils

“They told me I wouldn’t get a stick until I could skate,” he said, smiling, during an interview Monday at Prudential Center.

Hischier preferred hockey almost immediately because it was a fast game with a heavy emphasis on teamwork, but he did not decide to plunge into the sport full time until he was 12, significantly later than when many of the Canadians, Americans and Russians in the N.H.L. started playing.

Sometimes, as Devils Coach John Hynes pointed out, a prospect like Hischier, coming from a country like Switzerland, can fly under the radar. Hischier has played only one season for a North American team: the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

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Hischier, 18, during a news conference in Newark on Monday. He said he had never been to the New York area before the weekend.

Credit
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

“What you’re looking at is a guy who has a big upside and isn’t even close to reaching the ceiling,” Hynes said.

Playing in a smaller country with a lower hockey profile had its benefits. When Hischier was 15, he moved to Bern from Visp, in southern Switzerland, to play hockey, but he was still only an hour train ride from home.

“At the beginning, it was pretty difficult, but I lived with my aunt and my brother,” he said of playing in Bern, “and my teammates became my best friends.”

Those benefits also included high-level experience. Before he turned 17, Hischier played 15 games for S.C. Bern in the top level of Swiss professional hockey. He has played in three world junior championships for the Swiss under-18 team and two junior world championships for the under-20 Swiss national team.

“You get greater opportunities to play on the national team because the player pool in Switzerland isn’t as big as in Canada, the U.S. or Russia,” Hynes said. “When you are a…

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