New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier Still A Better Prospect Than Cale Makar

Nico Hischier, Miro Heiskanen, and Nolan Patrick (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Nico Hischier, Miro Heiskanen, and Nolan Patrick (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Nico Hischier was the better 2017 NHL Draft pick for the New Jersey Devils.

The New Jersey Devils are in desperate need of a first-line defenseman. The team made multiple moves to try to get one. They traded for Sami Vatanen and signed Will Butcher in 2017. Both were good moves, but neither turned out to be a top-line defenseman on a consistent basis. They drafted Ty Smith in 2018. He looks like he’s going to be a good player, but his upside is in question. The Devils traded some assets to take on the massive contract of P.K. Subban. He had a traumatic first season in New Jersey.

This has obviously caused Devils fans to look back at the 2017 NHL Draft when they had two superstar defensemen available and the first-overall pick in their hands. Obviously, the Devils picked Nico Hischier, who ended up becoming an All Star. However, Cale Makar was taken three picks later and he took the NHL by storm this season. The Devils still made the right decision not to take Makar.

Hischier is about to start a $7.25 million contract this season. It seems like a lot of money for a player who’s never been considered one of the top players in the league yet. He’s making more than players like Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, and David Pastrnak on a long-term deal. Ray Shero definitely paid Hischier for future performance, but there’s a reason for that. Hischier has the ability to become one of the best two-way players in the league. Is he there yet? No, but players like Hischier are a lot harder to come across than a player like, say, Patrik Laine.

When looking at Makar and his performance in the NHL so far, he was extremely good in his rookie season. We saw a glimpse of what’s to come in last year’s playoffs when he scored six points in 10 playoff games. He hit a point per game in Colorado’s 15 playoff games this year. He’s a points machine and is still good defensively.

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However, that shooting percentage is downright scary. Makar shot 9.9 percent last season. Only Tony DeAngelo, Jared Spurgeon, and Zach Werenski had 100 shots and a better shooting percentage as a defenseman. 12 goals is going to be really hard to replicate on the blue line. His assist numbers might stay where they are, but that’s largely to do with an insane Avalanche team that could add Taylor Hall in the offseason. HIs situation is perfect.

Hischier, on the other hand, is in charge of driving the Devils top line. He’s been the man who helped the aforementioned Hall to have the best season of his career which led to a Hart Trophy win. Kyle Palmieri is someone who plays his best hockey when healthy alongside Hischier. Then, the team just throws whoever on his left side after the Hall trade. Some of the options they tried to play with Hischier include Miles Wood, an out-of-position Jack Hughes, Pavel Zacha, and Jesper Bratt. There was no consistency, but Hischier did his best to be the best player on the ice as often as he could.

This isn’t meant to take anything away from Makar. He could be really good. However, he’s not even projected to be the best defenseman in his own draft (that’s Miro Heiskanen). He might not even be the best defensive prospect on his own team (Bowen Byram could theoretically pass him eventually, although Makar has a lead). Makar had a great season, but let’s see what happens once there is tape on him.

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On the other hand, Hischier has three years in the league, and he’s finding new ways to excel on the ice. This long offseason looks like it could benefit Hischier as much as any player on the Devils (army training, adding size, playing at home). Is Hischier projected to become Patrice Bergeron? Maybe not, but he has a chance to have a similar impact. Is Makar going to be the next John Carlson? Maybe, but that impact is muted when the team doesn’t have the right pieces around them. The Devils don’t have those right pieces, so Makar never has a season like this in New Jersey. Colorado is a perfect situation for him, and Hischier is better off being able to be the top guy on his own team. If we’re arguing anyone, it’s Heiskanen over Hischier. Makar isn’t in the same conversation yet, and he might be facing a drop in points next season thanks to shooting percentage. Hischier’s ceiling will continue to climb.