In recent years, the NHL has seen a plethora of first overall draft picks becoming outstanding hockey players. Star centers Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, and Nathan Mackinnon immediately come to mind while sifting through first overall picks. On the other hand, first overall picks often get called “busts” or “irrelevant” because they did not score four goals in their debut like Mathews or score 148 points in their first two seasons like McDavid. The New Jersey Devils’ 2017 first overall pick, Nico Hischier, often gets ridiculed and doubted because of comparisons to other first overall picks. However, he is and will be a vital piece to the Devils for many years, but his fifth year will be his most telling season yet.
Hischier’s Unfortunate 2020-21 Season
For Hischier, the shortened 2020-21 NHL season was one to forget. The 22-year-old center battled significant injuries that limited his season to just 21 games played. Before the start of the season, he suffered a leg injury in Switzerland that kept him sidelined for 11 games. Furthermore, by the time he was ready to return to the lineup, the Devils were going through their COVID battle, and the young center tested positive. Finally, once he was cleared and ready to play, he was named captain of the team. Unfortunately, the high that the team and their fans were feeling from the announcement was soon ruined. In his fifth game back, teammate P.K. Subban fired a puck that deflected into Hischier’s face.
The newly appointed captain would get surgery for a facial fracture and not return until April 13th. In his tainted season, he registered six goals and five assists for a total of 11 points. Despite the injuries and shortened season, Hischier was a welcomed presence when he was on the ice. Head coach Lindy Ruff threw him into whatever situation he needed Hischier in. Whether it was on the power play, penalty kill, or 5-on-5, Hischier was not kept on the bench. While on the ice, the center makes an impact on both sides of the puck.
Although there have been many critics and naysayers of Hischier, his stats are very good for a young hockey player. In 230 games played, he has potted 57 goals and 89 assists for 146 points. And even though he lost most of 2020-21 to injuries and COVID, he was awarded one of the highest honors in the NHL, being named captain.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Since entering the league through the 2017 NHL Draft, Hischier has received many labels. He became the first-ever first overall pick in the NHL draft who is from Switzerland. He was the first-ever first overall selection for the Devils in their history, and he was the second-youngest player in Devils history to be named captain. Kirk Muller was 21 years old when he was awarded the “C” on his jersey. Hischier is now 22 years old and the youngest active captain in the NHL. Despite his young age, after his first season, it was only a matter of time before he would be the captain of the Devils.
The spot was vacant since Andy Greene was traded to the New York Islanders in February 2020. Most Devils fans were in favor of Hischier becoming captain, while the lesser crowd thought it was too soon and that he has not proved himself yet. As always, there will be fans who are prone to be on the negative side of a franchise-changing decision, but it is the perfect time to give Hischier the honorary title.
The Devils’ young core of Hischier, Jack Hughes, Ty Smith, Jesper Bratt, and Mackenzie Blackwood are all showing signs of being able to take the next step. In order to have a successful team, leadership positions will play a pivotal part moving forward. With the departure of long-time veteran players such as Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, and Andy Greene, a new leadership core will have to emerge. During the season, we saw Damon Severson, Miles Wood, and Subban receive the “A” and be alternate captains for the Devils. Therefore, giving Hischier his earned title was appropriate timing for the 22-year-old who will be a Devil for a very long time.
To further support the Devils’ decision to give Hischier the captaincy, many of his peers and former teammates commented on the decision. Brian Boyle, a 15-season NHL player who played with the Swiss center for two years, had nothing but positive remarks about the decision.
“I just shot him a note. You knew that was going to be the case… the way the guy carries himself. The way he approaches it, his character is off the charts. And not to mention, he’s a phenomenal player, but he’s a great person. He’s all-inclusive to everybody and really has it figured out, and he’s had it figured out from a young age, so that was no surprise.”Mike Morreale on Twitter, Quote from Brian Boyle
Another bonus of naming Hischier captain at this point is that he will be a consistent player who sticks around. In recent years, the Devils had issues keeping their captain position filled for some time. Since 2010, they’ve had Jamie Langenbrunner, Zach Parise, Bryce Salvador, and Andy Greene as captains. Now, Hischier will be in the position for a very long time.
What Hischier Brings to the Table
Through 230 NHL games, fans know what to expect from Hischier. According to Natural Stat Trick, since entering the league in 2017, Hischier has had the second-most goals on the Devils with 40, one behind Adam Henrique. He is also first in assists with 54. This statistic can tell fans two things. One is that Hischier is producing and helping the team in a major way, and the second is that the team is lacking plenty offensively. Hischier’s numbers are good but not outstanding. In the upcoming season, there is potential to add more offense. With additions such as Tomas Tatar, Dougie Hamilton, and the possibility of Alexander Holtz making the team, the Devils can improve their production. Furthermore, the growth of Jack Hughes can bolster Hischier’s numbers on the power play.
Along with the offense that Hischier can provide, he is extremely experienced and effective on the defensive side of the puck. According to Dobber’s Frozen Tools, Hischier averaged 1.9 takeaways per game in 21 games he played. This is a dip from his prior years but still sixth on the team for the 2020-21 season. Furthermore, Hischier’s former head coach and current general manager have stated they believe the Swiss center will be a future Selke Trophy winner.
Hischier is a vital part of the team that the Devils were missing for most of last season. Despite what doubters say, he is a worthwhile first overall pick and means a lot to the organization. He will be around for several years to help the Devils become the competitive team that they are striving to become. Devils fans will always look at no. 13 with pride and understand how special he is to the organization.
Erica Rosenbaum is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers. She is currently attending Rutgers University and pursuing a Sports Management degree. She has run a Devils Instagram page since 2016 and previously wrote for AllNySports.