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First overall pick, Nico Hischier, really set the bar for himself after a head-turning preseason. The 18-year old center co-led the team in scoring with four goals, seven points, and showed some promising chemistry with the likes of Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford. We’re now five games into the Devils season, who are currently sitting atop the Metropolitan Division at 4-1-0. While he’s played well, Hischier only has two assists in five games, and is still waiting to score his first career goal.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s time to start voicing concern over Hischier’s scoring output, but people are beginning to notice (especially since his draft counterpart Nolan Patrick scored his first career goal). Hischier played well in his first five NHL games, despite being used selectively by head coach, John Hynes. He’s averaging 15:00 of ice time per game (fifth amongst forwards), and 3:43 of power play time (second amongst forwards), so playing time isn’t the issue. Having said that, Nico is undoubtedly enduring some growing pains of adapting to the NHL. The young Swiss forward has lightning speed and a dexterous set of hands, but his lanky stature (6’1, 175 lbs) makes him easy to knock off the puck and muscle out in battles along the boards and corners. This was especially evident in Friday night’s 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals- a much bigger and physical team than the Devils, who limited Hischier to just one shot on goal.
The schedule doesn’t get easier for Hischier and the Devils, who play two more big, hard-hitting teams in their next three games- the Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks. It further begs the question of what Coach Hynes can do to get Nico back in preseason form. While the preseason isn’t necessarily a good indicator on the level of competition the Devils will face throughout the regular season, there are some facets of Hischier’s playing situation that Coach Hynes can revisit.
The trio of Marcus Johansson, Nico Hischier, and Drew Stafford had instant chemistry this preseason, combining for five goals and 20 points. They went into the season as the Devils second offensive unit, but only played one period together due to Stafford being sidelined by injury. He returned to the lineup in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Rangers, where he scored a highlight-reel power play goal, and had over 17 minutes of ice time. That unit was periodically reunited and disassembled throughout Saturday’s matchup as Coach Hynes tried to generate a spark amongst his forwards. Investing some faith back into that trio could put Hischier in a more conducive scenario to not only start scoring goals, but tallying more points in general.
Hischier also has to start shooting more. The Devils currently average the fifth-fewest shots in the league (28.6), but somehow managed to score at least three goals in four of their five games this season. To put this in perspective, Hischier is in a five-way tie on the Devils roster with nine shots. Taylor Hall leads the team with 18, and just managed to score his first goal of the season in Friday’s loss to the Capitals. Especially considering how Hischier has as many five-on-five scoring chances as Taylor Hall through these first five games, Nico simply has to keep getting pucks on net and they’ll eventually start going in.
It’s only a matter of time before Hischier tallies his first of the year, and it’ll be a huge weight lifted off his (and Devils fans) shoulders. Patience and reassurance are essential as his season-opening goal drought continues. Nico plays a good two-way game, and has been utilized in every playing situation by the coaching staff. As mentioned earlier, Hischier set a high bar for himself going into the season, and while he’s been more than capable of being resourceful in game situations, there should ultimately be nothing to dislike about the young Swiss center’s performance.