Nico Hischier was named the 12th captain of the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 20, 2021. The Brig, Switzerland native was only 22 years and 47 days old at the time of the announcement, making him the second-youngest captain in Devils history. At the time he was entering his fourth season in the NHL and had 209 regular-season games under his belt.
“It was never a doubt who the next leader of this team was going to be. It was just when to do it,” general manager Tom Fitzgerald said at the time. “People just started to gravitate toward [Hischier]. At that point, I felt that he was the next captain. He is handling all of this really well, so what better time than the present? For me, I’m a big believer in ripping off the band-aid, dropping him in the deep end, and letting him go. That’s what we did. He’s going to lead us for a long, long time.”
At this point in the season, Hischier is showing growth as a leader for the Devils. He has become a role model for Devils’ rookies, leads by example, and carries the weight of the team on his shoulders. New Jersey has a bright future with both Hischier and Jack Hughes at center, and this season an additional key piece joined the team that also looks to his captain for ways to improve.
A Role Model to His Teammates in New Jersey
Until the Ottawa Senators gave the captaincy to Brady Tkachuk, Hischier was the youngest captain in the NHL. A young captain makes sense to lead a young Devils team, and Hischier’s seven-year contract extension ensured he would be with the team until the 2026-27 season. He turns 23 years old today (Jan. 4), and at such a young age, is a role model to rookie Dawson Mercer.
“He’s a great leader for us,” said Mercer. “He is a young captain, but with a young team, it’s really good because you trust him and know his situation. He’s been in the league for a while, and he’s not that old. He knows a lot and has been learning … I take pointers and see what I can learn from him to help me out in my style.”
The average age of the Devils’ roster this season is 25.5 years old, making them the youngest team in the league. The Devils’ general manager has previously admitted his team does not have an overly loud locker room, and that includes Hischier. When asked about his style, he stated he leads by example.
“I’m more of a leader with action. I like to do the action (so) that others can follow me,” said the Devils’ captain. “Going to war with brothers, with the team, that’s what I like about hockey. It’s a team sport.”
Hischier Leads by Example
While scrolling through social media, as most do in 2022, I noticed when the Devils struggle, some fans tend to first blame the coaching staff, and then the captain. Fans will utilize any platform to voice their pleasure or displeasure with a team’s performance. Regardless of whether it was warranted or not, Hischier has faced criticism during his captaincy, though thankfully some of that quieted down after New Jersey’s game against Nashville last month.
On Dec. 10, 2021, the Devils faced the Predators at Prudential Center. The Devils were coming off a victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, and looking for consecutive wins. The Devils were down a goal as the second period came to an end, and in the closing minutes tempers flared. Hischier dropped the gloves with Mikael Granlund after he cross-checked following the face off, and the captain received loud applause and a standing ovation as the referee escorted him off the ice.
Fans have recently seen Hischier jump into scrums after the whistle, and a willingness to come to the defense of his teammates including Mercer. He may not be Alex Ovechkin, but he is not going to sit idly by and not defend his teammates.
The 6-foot-1 forward plays in virtually every situation. He helps out on the penalty kill, remains on the first unit power play, and is usually one of the first players out during overtime. In the offensive zone, he is found lurking around the net, and is blocking shots in the defensive zone. Hischier might not be leading the team in points, but he does all the little things rights and gives one hundred percent each time he jumps onto the ice.
Hischier Carries the Weight of the Team
As the captain, Hischier frequently meets with the media before and after games. Each time the now-23-year-old steps to the podium he takes time to ensure each question is answered. It is evident he takes on the responsibility of the team, and head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed that fact when I asked him during a post-game press conference.
“I think he feels like he carries the weight of the team on his shoulders, which really is not fair,” said coach Ruff. “He takes the losses hard. He personally wants to feel like he’s responsible for how this team operates.”
To quote Julius Campbell from Remember the Titans, “attitude reflects leadership.” This season the Devils have a no-quit attitude on the ice, and a recent example is their game against the Edmonton Oilers on New Year’s Eve. They gave up the lead multiple times, but scored in the final minute of play to force overtime and eventually win the game. A few seasons ago it was expected that if the Devils fell behind in a game they would not be able to mount a comeback. This season is refreshingly different and part of that credit has to go to the captain who plays in all situations.
It has not yet been a full calendar year since Hischier skated onto the ice with the “C” stitched onto his sweater. He was limited to only 21 games during the 2020-21 campaign due to a leg injury, as well as the need for sinus surgery. This season Hischier has 20 points in 28 games. He was placed in the NHL’s COVID protocol in mid-December, and since his return has four points in his last three games, including the game-winning goal against the Washington Capitals. He is quietly becoming the captain the Devils need and while they may not be a contender yet, the future looks bright for him and his team.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.