Like snowflakes no two, number one overall picks are alike. A perfect example is New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier who was the first overall pick at the 2017 NHL Draft. Not every number one pick is going to be like Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby and come into the NHL and dominate from day one. That’s just reality. But that’s okay. Hischier is a damn fine player and will be one for a very, very long time in this league.
The recently turned 21-year-old has already played 191 games in his NHL career and has amassed 127 points (49g-78a); of his six game-winning goals three have come in overtime. Pretty much since day one in New Jersey Hischier has been the team’s number one center. Now in his third season, he’s having an impact in the face-off circle, playing in all situations, and since Taylor Hall was traded away he has now been named one of the team’s alternate captains for the remainder of the season.
He Likes To Hockey
Late game situations are where you can also find him, like on Jan. 2 when he blocked a shot with his foot to preserve a 2-1 road victory against the New York Islanders to kick off the 2020 portion of the schedule. It’s a tough call when thinking ahead to who the next Devils captain should be once Andy Greene leaves. Do you go with the quiet, reserved Hischier or with the charismatic, dynamic Jack Hughes? Do you bypass both of them and opt for a veteran like Kyle Palmieri or Blake Coleman until the two young pups are ready?
On Jan. 14 Hischier was selected to represent the Devils in the NHL All-Star Game, replacing his injured teammate Palmieri. Although he wasn’t originally selected to participate he’s still going, and five years from now no one will remember he was an injury replacement. And Hischier will likely have other appearances during All-Star weekends.
Back on October 18, New Jersey signed Hischier to a 7-year contract extension worth $50.75 million meaning that he’ll be one of the cornerstones of the franchise until at least the 2026-27 season. Hischier didn’t want to be like some of his peers who held out before as restricted free agents, and or signed bridge deal as their second NHL contracts. “I’m really excited to get this done and now I can focus on the hockey 100%,” he said. “I’m really happy to be here for seven more years.”
Don’t think he’s worth it? That’s your prerogative. But Hall doesn’t win the NHL MVP two seasons ago without Hischier as his centerman for the majority of that season. He’s the type of player who will excel with or without the right supporting cast around him, and obviously that performance is enhanced with the right pieces in place.
As far as comparables go, think Nicklas Backstrom from the Washington Capitals – a player who is oft-overlooked, but one of the most subtle, talented players in the league. That’s the type of career Hischier will have, he will always be under-appreciated to the outsider hockey world, but he will be a very successful distributor of pucks.
“You saw Nico from the first shift tonight, I think he had the puck on his stick for like a minute in their zone. He might not be the biggest guy but he’s good at protecting the puck and moving his feet, he’s a hard guy to defend,” said three-year teammate and current linemate Palmieri of Hischier after a recent home overtime loss to the New York Islanders.
“He’s shifty and he doesn’t expose the puck a lot which makes him even harder to defend. He has that ability to find some space and also create some space for himself; that was a nice backhander he put upstairs there (on his goal). He’s a special player and I think he’s just going to continue to get better. It’s a pleasure to be able to play with him and watch that.”
In typical Hischier fashion, he downplayed the level of skill it took for him to pull off the move where he put Mat Barzal in a spin cycle before beating Thomas Greiss with a rising backhanded shot from the slot. “We knew they were playing one-on-one, so I tried to beat my guy to the net while protecting the puck,” said the Swiss star, “once I got to the slot I tried to go upstairs with my shot.”
A solid replacement for Hischier’s left side would be someone like Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine or San Jose’s Timo Meier, that is unless someone inside the organization steps up and takes that spot – looking at you Jespers (Bratt, Boqvist). Don’t worry, I’m not a GM so I can talk freely about players hanging addresses and it’s not considered tampering.
He’s proven he can be a number one center in this league already. Imagine what happens if Hughes becomes the top -ine center and Hischier slides down to the second slot and gets more favorable matchups? That’s probably how the two cornerstones best line-up in the future, but for now Hischier is doing just fine as the Devils’ top center and most talented player. And he’s worth every penny of that $50.75 million dollar deal he signed back in October.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.