With the Devils surging to the top of the standings, there have been a lot of great performances to go around. The team has won six straight and nine of ten, amassing victories in just about every way you can think. They’ve gotten great performances from their blue line and much of their group, with even the fourth forward line contributing significantly. Jesper Bratt has been getting leaguewide buzz for his blistering start and John Marino has himself looking like a source of much regret for Penguins fans over the next several years. One great performer from the first part of this season who I won’t say been overlooked, but does deserve a bit of his own spotlight, is Nico Hischier.
Hischier has taken a bit of a back seat in terms of hype over the past couple years as Jack Hughes has blossomed into an all-world playmaker and offensive magician for the Devils. Even Jesper Bratt, with his big breakout last season, contract drama this offseason, franchise-record-setting start to this season, and a novelty Twitter account dedicated to his play, has overshadowed the Devils’ captain a bit. Hischier has been quietly developing into the exact type of player the Devils need him to be over the past couple seasons, though: a dominant two way center who can score, facilitate, and win tough matchups with a variety of linemates.
It’s not that Hischier hasn’t been good or even very good at times since coming into the league, it’s more that being a first-overall pick carries expectations that can be tough for a player to meet for some people. Add in the pressure of being a young captain in the NHL and people inevitably want a lot of big performances out of you to justify the profile. Last season and now especially to begin this season, Hischier has set about quieting critics with the type of two-way ability that can power a team to success in the NHL.
Hischier plays substantial minutes in all three phases for the Devils and he largely performs in all three, putting up strong impacts in both directions at 5v5 to go with strong production. Looking at his RAPM stats below from Evolving Hockey, you can see how he consistently is impacting the game in a positive way all over the ice. He’s also doing it while typically seeing the toughest matchups, particularly at home where the Devils can make the last change. In Evolving Hockey’s GAR numbers, Hischier rates as one of the top 50 players in the league so far this season. On top of all of that, he is also winning 60% of his faceoffs this season (per Hockey Reference, making him the ideal player to put out in a critical spot during the game.
On the offensive side, Hischier has always been able to make the kind of wow plays that can show up on a highlight reel, but the frequency of those plays has increased significantly of late. Hischier is showing a growing ability to beat opponents one-on-one and cause havoc for opposing defenses, which is a big plus for a player who also plays in the responsible manner otherwise that Hischier does.
Hischier has also had teammates singing his praises as a captain this season, as he has started to really grow into the role. It’s tough to be thrust into a critical leadership role as a young player like Hischier was back in the 2020-21 season. It was especially tricky since he was injured for such a large percentage of that first season as captain. The players at the time all seemed to have tremendous respect for the kind of player Hischier was and they way he went about his business. Hischier is not boisterous but he is dedicated and a hard worker by all accounts and he seems to have started to really embrace his role as this team’s cheif motivator and example-setter. Combined with his on-ice output (and a very reasonable contract) Hischier is a player any team around the league would badly want.
Put the entire picture together and Hischier looks exactly like the kind of player you’d hope to get picking at the top of a draft. Combined with many of the Devils talented young players, he is looking like a pillar the Devils can truly build on and rely upon to drive the team forward. His continued progression is just another major part of what has gone right for the Devils in their hot start this season and will hopefully continue to keep the team in the thick of the playoff hunt as the season continues.