New Jersey Devils fans haven’t had much to hang their hat on this year, rather, the last decade. Outside of winning a couple of draft lotteries, the Devils haven’t done much winning at all, the third least in the league to be exact. While this season’s been tough to watch, it’s different than all the prior losing seasons. This miserable one’s laced with hope.
The Devils have rising superstars and cornerstones pieces all throughout the roster. Everyone around the league knows that Jack Hughes is already a superstar, and Jesper Bratt is well on his way to being an elite talent.
His first season in the Garden State hasn’t been the greatest, but they still have their stud on the backend in Dougie Hamilton. They’ve also gotten pleasant surprises from lockdown defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler and rookie Dawson Mercer. Even guys like Damon Severson and Yegor Sharangovich have shown they’ll have big roles to play in the Devils’ chase for success and a cup.
However, there’s one guy who’s flown under the league’s radar and even the fanbase’s, and that’s Nico Hischier. The captain has quietly taken his game to an elite level. In his last 23 games, specifically since being paired with Jesper Bratt, Hischier has scored 11 goals and has accounted for 17 assists.
So why does Hischier get less love for his breakout season than Bratt and Hughes do? Well, the obvious being they’re a lot flashier than Hischier, but I’m not sure more deserving of the recognition. It’s time to bring attention to the Swiss Prince’s rise to kingship.
From Prince to a King
Hischier had a great rookie campaign; the first-overall pick played all 82 games, registering 52 points, good for fourth-most in Devils history. Since then, Hischier’s shown more than enough flashes but has struggled to find consistency in his play and stay healthy.
In his first three seasons, he either finished with or was on pace to land between 50 to 55 points. But those numbers were over an 82-game pace because Hischier missed 45 of 203 possible games and half of last year’s season.
All the talking heads and “experts” on Twitter had more than enough things to say about Hischier: He was a product of MVP Taylor Hall, he’s made of glass, he’ll never take that next step, and he’s not fit to be the captain. And for a lot of this season, it seemed to be the case. He missed nine games and was on pace for land in the 50-point region.
Then got plugged with Jesper Bratt, and it’s clicked.
Tale of two tapes
Some NHL analysts believed this season would be Hischier’s make-or-break year in his development. It would determine whether he’d be an elite center or just a great one, similar to what Nathan MacKinnon did entering his fifth season.
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In the first four months of this season, Hischier looked very Nico-esque. He had 24 points through 39 games, which unsurprisingly put him at 50 points over 82 games.
Then, on a Monday night in February against Ottawa, head coach Lindy Ruff threw Bratt on Hischier’s wing, and the two haven’t looked back.
Hischier has 28 points in 23 games, and nobody’s talked about it, not even the Devils fanbase. Of those 23 games, Hischier has failed to register a point in just seven of them. Also, over these two months, he ranks 24th among all NHLers in points per game at 1.22. That’s higher than players like Kirill Kaprisov, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Cale Makar.
In case you were wondering, Jack Hughes ranks 12th, averaging 1.38 points per game since the game against Ottawa. As for the point totals, Hischier’s tied for 31st most with guys like John Tavares, David Pastrnak, and Nikita Kucherov. If you look at all the guys on that list, the only name that may shock you is Coyotes center Nick Schmaltz, who’s aided by a 7-point game, but has still been good. The rest are all guys are All-Stars.
Could it be a hot streak? Sure. Those 28 points over an 82-game are good for a 99-point pace. The point isn’t to say Hischier is going to put up 100-point seasons, but those 50-point seasons are out of the question. Never in his career has he been on a stretch like this one, and only once in his career had he been flanked by an elite winger like Bratt.
HIschier currently has 52 points in 62 games, which is good for 68 points over 82, even though he was on pace for 50 two months ago. Some people aren’t ready to crown him yet as an elite two-way centerman since 20-something games is a small sample size, but Hischier only going to get better, and the talent on the wings will only improve also. It took a while, but Nico’s finally that guy.