Nico Hischier had only 3 goals but had 11 assists for a total of 14 points in his first 18 NHL games this season. Not a bad start, by any means, but it needs to be better. Chosen first overall in the 2017 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils, Hischier needs to prove that he was worth the faith shown by Devils’ GM Ray Shero.
Shero was quoted after the draft having said, “In the end, I told Paul Castron [amateur scouting director] that whatever was going to come our way, I didn’t want to leave the draft without Nico Hischier.” Huge words from a franchise that sent out a memo stating, essentially, that “enough is enough” during that offseason. The Devils are not content to miss the playoffs again, having missed the postseason every year since 2013.
When you haven’t made the playoffs in over 5 years, there is suddenly a lot of pressure from your fan base to snap out of whatever funk you’re in. Shero is feeling that heat but a solid crop of rookies including Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Will Butcher combining for 40 points so far this season is really helping cool things down. It doesn’t hurt that Taylor Hall, acquired from Edmonton in 2016, has 19 points all by himself, nor that the Devils have a division-leading 11-4-3 record. The postseason looks like a lock for New Jersey this year.
Hall has more-or-less been mandated to take the young former Halifax Moosehead under his wing, but has been rather effective in doing so. Hischier, himself, said “He’s been really helpful. He knows what you have to do.”
Hall absolutely knows what it’s like to be a rookie who was drafted high. His rookie season was in 2010-11 and he had to live up to the hype of being selected 1st overall in a draft class that consisted of Tyler Seguin, Ryan Johansen, Jeff Skinner, Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, all of whom are All-Star players. Not only was that a great draft class, but he was drafted to the struggling Edmonton Oilers who have a very passionate fan base. In the years that followed, Hall was unable to right that ship on his own, leading to Edmonton winning 1st overall picks the following two years and drafting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov with those picks, respectively.
Success did not come even then, and after a few more years of what, to Oilers fans, seemed like absolute failure, Hall was shipped off to New Jersey in exchange for Adam Larsson.
Ahead of the game
New Jersey is playing really good hockey right now. Hall and his Swiss-born rookie ‘project’ Hischier knew going into the Saturday matinee matchup with Winnipeg that they’d have to be on top of their game. The surging Jets sported an identical 11-4-3 record, second in their own division to the St. Louis Blues who have 4 more points, but also have 2 more games played.
The Devils’ top line of Hall, Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri had a combined point total of 42 ahead of the game with the Jets, and they’ll need every bit of that production to continue. Opposite them is the formidable combo of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler, a grouping with a total of 54 points themselves.
During the tilt
The 1st period had a number of chances for both top lines, but the goaltending of both Connor Hellebuyck and Cory Schneider were the stories for both squads.
Remember, too, that Dustin Byfuglien is always a shark looking for a feed, and Hischier and Hall are both delicious prey for the 6’5” monster. Hall narrowly escaped a colossal crushing towards the end of the 1st frame to emerge unscathed. Pointless with 3 shots in 20 minutes, but unscathed.
Hischier ended the opening frame with 4 shots on target.
Considering the Devils had 13 total shots, the fact that those two players combined for over half speaks to how much they are relied upon.
The 2nd period did not start the way New Jersey had hoped, as Kyle Connor potted one at 5:51 into the period while both Hall and Hischier were on the ice. Notable is the fact that assists came from both Wheeler and Scheifele.
FUN FACT: Blake Wheeler is currently ranked 2nd in the NHL for assists.
Ben Lovejoy quickly levelled the score on a weird one that needed to be reviewed because the play had gone on for a while after the shot.
Things then began unravelling for the Devils. The Jets’ Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, and Matt Hendricks all added tallies at 8:06, 8:41, and 9:41 respectively.
Joel Armia and Tyler Myers gave up a pair of powerplays to New Jersey in quick succession, but the Devils were unable to take advantage on either opportunity. Hischier and Hall play on separate powerplay lines, but neither player was able to penetrate. Hellebuyck played like a man possessed making a number of key saves.
The remainder of the 2nd looked to be rather uneventful, except for a somewhat comical collision between Hall and Hischier with about 4 minutes left to play. Not either of their best moments. Luckily neither were hurt on the play.
Mathieu Perreault decided it wouldn’t do to leave only a 3 goal lead for the break and added a marker of his own at 18:18 on a slick pass from Hendricks.
Clearly this was not the Devils’ preferred outcome. Down 5-1 headed into the 3rd is when you need your stars to come out flying. That isn’t even mentioning the ‘what if’ of the Jersey goaltender situation. Will backup keeper Keith Kinkaid come out to start the 3rd? Or will you leave your franchise keeper in there in a game he’s suddenly getting shelled in? Giving up 4 goals in less than a 4-minute span is not something you should let stand, in my humble opinion. Whether it’s the netminder’s fault or not, you have to yank him in a road game where 5 goals get scored on you in one period of play. Right?
So we’re clear, Kinkaid did, in fact, start the 3rd.
At 7:14 into the 3rd, Hischier and Hall finally had an impact. Hall’s shot (from a Hischier assist) was partially stopped by Hellebuyck. It literally stopped on the goal line until one of those other rookies I mentioned earlier, Will Butcher, raced in and poked it across for the score. Was the comeback on?
No. The answer is no. The comeback was most certainly not on.
The Devils ran into a wall on the day in the Winnipeg Jets. Unable to get pretty much anything going after the 1st period, Hall finished the game with 4 shots, Hischier finished with 5, and both get credited with an assist.
Final score 5-2.
To be honest, the talent on the Devils’ side was certainly not lacking, but the hot Winnipeg Jets and the home-ice advantage proved too much. The Devils do look like a team that will make the playoffs. Everyone takes some lumps the odd day, but in the end, there was a lot of positive in New Jersey’s play that leads me to believe that they will be quite fine for the rest of this year. Only 19 games into an 82 game season, I’m pretty sure panic won’t set in anytime soon, particularly sitting atop the division as they are.