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Nico Hischier 400, Looking Back and Ahead

Time sure flies. Can you believe Nico Hischier has now played in 400 regular-season NHL games? It feels like just yesterday he was being drafted Number One overall by the Devils in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Now, he’s 400 games into his career, and he’s The Captain of a young, skilled New Jersey squad that’s expected to make a good deal of noise in the Eastern Conference. 

With the Devils’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Flyers on Tuesday night now in the books, let’s take a look at how Hischier got to this point in his career and where he can still go. And while his team didn’t leave the ice with a win, Hischier at least did his part by tallying a primary assist on Jesper Bratt’s second-period power-play goal.

If you recall, there was plenty of speculation regarding who the Devils would take with the Number One pick in the 2017 Draft. Nico Hischier was one possible selection. Nolan Patrick was another option. 

The funny thing is, only people outside of New Jersey thought there was actually a debate regarding who the Devils would take. In fact, there were even some who thought the Devils might try to trade down. At the time, Ray Shero was the Devils’ GM, and he made it crystal clear after selecting Hischier that he was only ever interested in the young Swiss center. 

“Unless I was assured of getting this player, I really had no interest in trading down,” Shero said after the draft. “For our organization, picking Nico made sense for us when you look at the upside,” Shero continued. “He certainly has the ability to score goals, but he’s a great playmaker and has the ability to make other players better. He sees the ice extremely well, is very quick, agile, and pretty slick.”

It wasn’t just Hischier’s playmaking abilities that made him such a coveted pick though.

“He blocks shots, plays penalty-kill, understands the game and thinks it so well,” said Troy Dumville, who, at the time, was with NHL Central Scouting. “I think it’ll be hard for the Devils to say that he’s not NHL-ready. They may say he’s physically not ready, but he’s going to step into camp and ‘Wow’ people. They’ll have a big decision on what to do at No. 1 or 2 center.”

The ability to “think the game” is something that has repeatedly been used to describe Hischier’s style of play; even to this day.

As one Western Conference Scout put it on Tuesday night, “He’s such a smart player, on both sides of the puck. A lot of times, with Number One overall picks, those guys are usually offensively dynamic. But Nico thinks the game so well, both offensively and defensively. A guy like that can play for a long, long time if he stays healthy.”

Devils’ broadcaster and former goalie, Chico Resch weighed in by saying, “You gotta be careful because his being drafted, Number One, wasn’t his talent. I first heard about him from Bobby Smith, who first brought him over to Halifax Moosehead, that’s where he played Junior. I said, ‘Bobby, it looks like Nico is going to be first, but he doesn’t have those gorgeous (numbers). (For example, Jack Hughes had great numbers his draft year). But Bobby Smith said, ‘You don’t realize this guy’s character, how he plays every area of the ice all the time.

“I didn’t question Bobby Smith,” Resch continued. “And then watching (Nico) night after night, listening to the guys, it’s just, he doesn’t have a lot of razzle-dazzle, but he plays the fundamentals of the game as well as anybody. We compare him to (Patrice) Bergeron who just retired from Boston and Nicklas Bäckström with the Capitals. That’s more what (Nico) is. He’s not a, ‘Wow, look at him.’ But he really knows the game. You watch the subtleties. He does those as well as anybody.”

Of course, thinking the game and mastering the subtleties aren’t Hischier’s only tools. He does in fact have plenty of offensive talent. 301 career points in his first 400 games is proof of that.

A 0.75 career points-per-game mark is impressive, regardless of draft position. But there was a time when people didn’t know if Hischier would develop into a true offensive force. After all, his first couple years in the league were rough from a health standpoint; thrice missing at least 12 games per season. And it wasn’t like he was lighting it up offensively when he was healthy. In his first four seasons, Hischier never once had more than 52 points – which he accomplished during his rookie campaign in 2017-18. 

Then came the 2021-22 season and the long-awaited breakout at age 23. In 70 games that year, Hischier tallied 60 points (21G, 39A). Since his breakout season, Hischier has seen his points-per-game average increase from 0.63 to an impressive 0.91. 

However, while those numbers are nice, they don’t really tell the full story of who Nico Hischier is as a player. 

During Hischier’s draft year the Director of NHL Scouting, Dan Marr said the following about the young Swiss center: “Hischier is definitely worth the price of admission. He has a high skill level, but what’s most impressive is the way he competes, his drive, and his work ethic. He is a player who is first on the forecheck forcing a turnover, and when the play transitions, he’s the first player back. He’s in that category as a special player.

“(The E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence) doesn’t focus on the on-ice skills and attributes of the recipient rather, it focuses on the person,” continued Marr. “In (Hischier) we saw the same type of passion and motivation to do the right thing and do it to the best of your ability similar to the way that E.J. strived.

“You don’t need to spend a lot of time around Nico to see that he portrays a genuine care for others and has a humbleness about him that endears him to teammates and others.”

Since those days, Hischier has continued to represent himself and the Devils organization well, both on and off the ice. And he’s used his strong-willed personality to turn himself into a complete player.

“His mom and dad, deserve a lot of credit,” said Chico Resch. “It just doesn’t happen overnight. From the time he started playing hockey and he was 10, 11-years-old, his parents were saying, ‘Nico, team first, team first.’”

“With Nico, it’s just, he physically grew up,” our anonymous Western Conference Scout explained. “He got stronger. He’s able to play the style and the type of hockey that he’s best suited for. He’s so good two ways, but you need to have that strength to be able to do that. Especially over the last couple of years, you could really see that increase.

“Once he got stronger he just became even more confident, became more assured in how he could play. He’s always thought the game really well, both offensively and defensively. It’s really good to see those strides he took.”

As his confidence and physical stature grew, so too did his leadership skills and his voice in the dressing room. Therefore, it was only natural the Devils named him Team Captain prior to the start of the 2020-21 season. 

“He competes very hard every game,” our Western Conference Scout explained. “All the games I’ve ever seen him play, there hasn’t been many games where I’m like, ‘Oh, Nico wasn’t very good.’ He’s the type of player who, even if it’s not going well offensively, he’s gonna compete, he’s gonna lead by example. That’s what you want in a captain. That’s why he’s The Captain.”

Hischier is The Captain. He’s a tremendous two-way player. His offensive skills have developed quite nicely. You might ask, what more could he want after 400 games, and what other levels can he take his game to? 

Well, Chico Resch has the answer. “The Stanley Cup. That’s where he can go. If you ask him, that’s where he wants to go from here, The Stanley Cup.”

Note: Thanks to Mike Morreale and Leo Scaglione Jr. for allowing us to use their quotes from that time. 

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