Choosing Nico Hischier Over Cale Makar Isn’t New Jersey Devils Biggest Mistake

This article is going to get shared a lot for the headline because the argument sounds insane. The New Jersey Devils had a chance to draft one of the best players in the league. Cale Makar is not up there with Victor Hedman and Adam Fox as the best defensemen, he’s up there with Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews as the best player in the league.

Nobody is going to argue that Nico Hischier is better than Makar. We’re also not trying to make that argument. However, there is an argument we’d be in the same or possibly a worse position if we drafted Makar. While we’d get the better player, the two-year wait to see him make the NHL might have completely changed his development, and the Devils might have been considered a laughing stock at that point.

Let’s start with the obvious; Nico Hischier’s rookie season. He was phenomenal that year, taking over for Travis Zajac as the top-line center after Zajac was injured before training camp. Hischier was able to handle the load immediately. He was centered on a line with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. That led to one of the most magical individual seasons in franchise history.

Hall ended up winning the MVP with the Devils, the first one any player in this franchise history ever won. Martin Brodeur got close, but he never secured the trophy. Hall will go down in Devils history, and he said after the season he had Hischier to thank. He said the rookie was a huge reason why he was able to score 39 goals and put up 93 points. Hischier was second on the team that season with 52 points. Ironically, it was the difference in points that got Hall all the votes for MVP, since the Devils were still far from one of the best teams in the league.

They faced the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs, their first playoff appearance since losing the Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings. They were out after five games. That one win at home was amazing and a memory many will never forget. It gave us a little light when it came to Cory Schneider’s career. There were a lot of ramifications of that run.

Hall was happy, he regained his reputation as a great player, and he had a rookie center who was only going to get better. Meanwhile, Cale Makar just had a great first season at UMass. He had 21 points in 34 games, and there were moments he showed his superstar ability. This was in college, and Makar was not NHL-ready just yet.

However, if the Devils took him first overall, guess where he would be in 2018? Not only did the Devils want a first-overall pick to make it to the league quickly, but they had a desperate need for defensive help. Maybe if they get Makar, they don’t trade for Sami Vatanen. Vatanen had a great season with the Devils after he was traded from the Anaheim Ducks in the middle of the season. That trade might still happen, but what if it doesn’t?

The question now asks if Hall would be able to do what he did with Hischier if Adam Henrique or *gulp* Pavel Zacha was his center. Would he be the MVP? Would he have a magical MVP season if the Devils drafted Makar? It seems pretty clear he wouldn’t. He might have been really good and might have even hit 75 or 80 points, but the magic would be gone.

If the Devils took Makar and Hall never has that season, then the injury-plagued 2018-19 completely tanks his value. So, when the Devils attempt to trade him, they get a package that might include some prospects and some picks, but they don’t get Kevin Bahl and they don’t get the first-round pick that turns into Dawson Mercer.

On top of that, since the Devils made the playoffs by such a slim margin, it’s likely the Devils missed the postseason to the surging Florida Panthers that season. Since then, the Devils have been near the bottom of the standings. Sure, some of that has to do with P.K. Subban not living up to his trade value or Andy Greene getting too many minutes. Adding Cale Makar would completely change that but by how much? Would it be enough to change the Devils from a bottom dweller to a playoff team? Makar is good, but it’s hard to argue that anyone is that good outside of some goalies.

Then there’s the point that Makar’s presence on the 2018-19 Devils likely helps them slightly in the standings, even though his development might not be where it was. He is too talented to ever be bad. So, the Devils likely finish the NHL Draft Lottery without Jack Hughes. That might not be the worst thing in the world (if they took Moritz Seider or Trevor Zegras) but it likely is devastating (Kirby Dach, Dylan Cozens, and Matthew Boldy are the types of names we’re really talking about here).

Here’s the point, Cale Makar is a much better player than Nico Hischier, but the Devils aren’t necessarily in better shape with him on the roster in the long run. They would be better now, but the team would be completely different. No Dawson Mercer. No Dougie Hamilton. No Jack Hughes. Heck, they might have re-signed Taylor Hall because he didn’t command as much. The one thing that stands out is the Devils would now have a 10-year playoff drought. A full decade without the postseason.

Want your voice heard? Join the Pucks And Pitchforks team!

Write for us!

Would it be worth it to have one of the best players in the world on the team now? Sure, but it’s not a devastating pick to take Hischier at the time. Makar wasn’t really the choice, and the Devils avoided devastation in Nolan Patrick. Hischier is at worst fourth-best in the draft but he could easily become second best. Getting someone who is as good as Hischier is not a bad thing. They could have had Makar, but they would never have the same situation as the Colorado Avalanche.