Timo Meier will never forget the excitement of watching the Swiss national team upset Joe Thornton and Team Canada in the “Miracle on Swiss” at the 2006 Torino Olympics as a nine-year-old boy.
With he and New Jersey Devils top pick Nico Hischier’s recent emergence, Meier is hopeful that he’ll get his own taste of Swiss glory on the international stage before the sun sets on his young-NHL career.
“That’s the goal,” Meier said. “We’ve been underdogs, but it’s not like that anymore. When you play against the Swiss, you know that they can play.”
In 2015, Meier became just the second Swiss-born player selected with a top-10 pick at the NHL Draft, joining Nino Niederreiter, who was drafted at No. 5 in 2010. In June, Hischier, who Meier will square off against Friday when the Sharks meet up with the Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, became an instant-national hero when he was chosen with the first-overall pick in the 2017 draft.
Between Hischier and Meier, Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators, who’s widely considered among the best defensemen in the league, and Kevin Fiala, the 11th pick in the 2014 draft, Swiss hockey is starting to lay down a solid foundation for success in future Olympics, assuming the NHL rejoins the world’s top-hockey tournament in the future.
Former-Sharks defenseman Mirco Mueller, who was traded to the Devils in June, is also a Swiss native.
Meier could sense the buzz around Swiss hockey when he returned to his native land to train over the summer.
“It never happened before that a Swiss player got drafted first overall,” Meier said. “It definitely made hockey bigger back home.”
The Sharks power forward considers Hischier a friend. They played together on Team Switzerland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships, and Meier helped Hischier get set up in Halifax after he was drafted by his former-junior team, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Halifax Mooseheads, at the 2016 Canadian Hockey League import draft.
After seeing him up close, Meier isn’t surprised that Hischier, who was dubbed “the Swiss McDavid” as a 16-year-old, is already making an impact at the NHL level.
The 18-year-old is centering the Devils top line with Taylor Hall and Drew Stafford, he’s collected seven points in seven games and he scored his first two NHL goals Thursday night in his team’s 5-4 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators.
Like McDavid, Meier said that Hischier is the prototypical modern-NHL player.
“He’s a very smooth skater,” he said. “He has a great view of the ice. He’s a very smart player. He can compete and make plays, and also put it in the back of the net, and he’s not afraid to go in front of the net in the dirty areas.
“Overall, he’s a complete player.”
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer is equally impressed by what he saw from Hischier during his preparation for Friday’s game.
“The tape I’ve watched on him, you can tell why he went first overall,” the Sharks coach said. “He creates offense in a league where that’s hard to do. At his age, to be able to come in and do that… He got two last night, it looks like he could have had two the night before, and one or two the night before that.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg with what you’re going to see from him.”
2. Geeky stats suggest a Devils backslide, too.
After we suggested Thursday that a regression to the mean was inevitable, the Devils went out and improved to 6-1 on the season with a clutch overtime win in Canada’s capital.
The crux of the argument here is that the Devils are young, they have an untested blue line and it’s unlikely that they’ll continue to boast the NHL’s best power play over an 82-game season.
Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert threw a little more meat on the skeleton by diving into the advanced stats this morning.
Without making a power point presentation, here’s some of the nuts and bolts in plain English.
— The Devils have a shooting percentage of 14 percent. Last year, the Washington Capitals led in the NHL in shooting percentage at 10.46 percent. The Anaheim Ducks were ranked 15th at 9.07 percent, so the Devils number is sure to drop in due time.
— New Jersey ranks in the league’s bottom-10 in shots on goal for and against, shot attempts for and against, unblocked shot attempts against and goals against per 60 minutes. Allow me to translate, they’re getting crushed territorially and it will come back to haunt them over the long haul.
— One in every five goals that the Devils have scored have come from “low danger areas,” which is three times the league average. In short, the Devils are getting more than their share of bad goals and those will dry up over the course of a season.
3. The Devils backup goalie situation is similar to the Sharks.
Another reason why the Devils are off to such a scorching start is that they’re getting exceptional goaltending from both starter Cory Schneider and backup Keith Kinkaid, who will take the blue paint against the Sharks Friday.
Kinkaid stopped nine of nine shots after coming in for the injured Schneider Thursday night, improving his save percentage to .950 in two appearances on the season.
DeBoer knows first hand what Kinkaid brings to the net as he coached him during his final season with the Devils.
“He’s a good goalie,” the Sharks coach said. “It reminds me of our situation here where you’ve got a backup that’s capable of going in and winning games, stealing games. He’s a real-talented kid. They’ve got a 1.a / 1.b situation here.”