The Great One Gives a Great Compliment

Thursday night, after the New Jersey Devils played the Edmonton Oilers at Prudential Center, Ken Daneyko got a text message from an unknown number.

“I pick up my phone, I look at my texts right after the game, and some guy goes ‘hey tell that #13 I love watching him play, he’s so enjoyable’” said Daneyko.

The number wasn’t saved in his phone. Curious, Dano asks who it is.

“I asked by the way who is this, and he responded … 99.”

Turns out, “Mr. Devil” got the text from another famous nickname in hockey — in fact, the most famous: “The Great One.”

“It was Wayne Gretzky, texting me to tell me he loves watching Nico Hischier.”

It’s easy to understand why #99 might be watching the game (while in Toronto for Hockey Hall of Hame induction weekend, no less).

In 2016 he rejoined the Oilers organization as a partner and vice-chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group. What makes the compliment more impressive coming from Gretzky (aside from the fact that it came from Gretzky, and completely unsolicited), is that every game he is watching of his team, he is seeing the NHL’s heir apparent to the throne, often the most thrilling player in any game: Connor McDavid.

The text message exchange was brought to Hischier’s attention 48 hours later on Saturday night after the Devils defeated the Florida Panthers 2-1 at home.

“Really?” Was Hischier’s first response, immediately shifting from his typical even keel demeanor to excitement.

“Wow… that’s pretty impressive. If the greatest one of all time is saying that, it’s pretty neat.”

You could certainly excuse the 18-year-old if he wasn’t as excited about this compliment as he would be for, say, Pavel Datsyuk, the player he idolized growing up. The Swiss #1 overall pick was born on January 4, 1999 — exactly three months and 14 days before “The Great One” played his very last NHL game. But you could tell that this meant very much to him — so much so that he didn’t know exactly how to respond.

“If that’s true, it kind of shocks me,” Hischier admitted. “I’m a little bit speechless. It’s a big compliment.”

Hischier has two goals, nine assists for 11 points in his first 16 NHL games and has shown flashes of brilliance with the puck in his possession. Devils General Manager Ray Shero has had high praise for the rookie:

“He’s smart, he’s so conscientious defensively, thinking the game, seeing the ice, he’s 18 years old and he has a backup game big time,” Shero told the Sporting News.

“He can kill penalties, he’s got a great stick, and defensively he cares. Put it this way, we won the lottery and we were very fortunate to move to number one. But for us, a guy who plays his way is something we haven’t had here in New Jersey for a long time. We thought he was the best fit for us and we still feel that way.”

Thus far, early in this season, Hischier has garnered admiration from many fans in Jersey, from around the hockey world … and, now, from the primary member of it’s Mount Rushmore.

And the message is clear: Nico Hischier is anything but a “Mickey Mouse player.”