The Devils season has been realistically over for months, but in the final weeks, Nico Hischier is showing that he has everything it takes to be an elite center in the NHL.
Jack Hughes, the Devils top center, suffered a season ending injury on April 3rd. In the five games since Hughes got hurt, Nico Hischier has stepped up in a big way, earning 8 points while playing over 20 minutes in each game. He has created some draw dropping plays resulting in goals for the Devils. With Hughes out Hischier has stepped right into the role of 1C for New Jersey and is excelling.
Late in a game on the road against a team that is fighting for their playoff life and Nico Hischier just took over and dominated the entire ice until he finally put the puck in the net. He fought off Jamie Benn and danced around Tyler Seguin before ripping the puck past Stars goalie Jake Oettinger to give the Devils a late lead and the eventual game winning goal. Being able to take over a game like that in a pressure situation against a playoff contending team is an example of something a player has to do to be considered elite. With this goal, Hischier tied his career high in goals with 20, in 19 fewer games than when he scored 20 goals in his rookie season. He also has blocked more shots this year than in any season in his career previously, and leads all Devils forwards in that category this year. Nico is leading by example as he has the best season of his career so far.
The Captain also made a hell of a play to set up Fabian Zetterlund for his first career NHL goal. Hischier kicks the pass from Hamilton into the air, swats it down to the ice, controls the puck, dances around Phil Kessel, and finds Zetterlund’s tape with a perfect pass through Coyotes defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, all at full speed. Zetterlund made no mistake in ripping the puck into the back of the net and scored his first career goal. An awesome moment for him for sure. However, the play goal doesn’t happen without the amazing assist from Hischier. Even late in a long lost season, Hischier is doing everything he possibly can to try and drag this team to as many victories as possible, injuries and dreadful goaltending be damned.
Despite a slow start to the season in the goal scoring department, 4 goals in his first 27 games, Hischier is now at 20 goals on the season. He is still only 23 years old but is rapidly growing into the elite player we all hoped he would be when the Devils drafted him in 2017. His 58 points in 65 games this year puts him on a pace for over 70 points in an 82 game span, had he not missed some time for injuries this season. It may be a flawed stat that can be misleading but Hschier has an even plus minus through 65 games this year. He pays over 19 minutes per game on a team that has allowed the 28th most goals against in the NHL and yet he been on the ice for the same amount of goals for as he has goals against. If you favor more advanced stats, Hischier also has a Corsi percentage of over 54%. This means that over 54% of the offensive opportunities while Hischier is on the ice are going to the Devils. When you consider the fact that Hischier starts roughly half of his shifts in the defensive zone and is the Devils second center on the penalty kill, these numbers are very impressive for a forward on a team that hasnt had any decent goaltending to speak of so far this season. Nico’s defensive game mixed with his rapidly improving offensive production shows that he can be part of the answer in ending the Devils franchise pathetic last decade of failure and lead the organization into a better, more successful future.