Throughout most of the last 10 games or so, the top line has largely consisted of the consistent trio of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt. In the last 10 games, that line has accounted for almost 14% of all ice time for the New Jersey Devils. That line was still performing at a quality level too, despite the team’s overall struggles. Together, that line had produced a 66.7% goals for percentage over the last 10 games, meaning that when they were on the ice, New Jersey was scoring 2 goals for every 1 goal they were giving up. That is quite good.
But because of the team’s overall struggles, however, John Hynes decided to shake things up a little in hopes of generating a spark and reigniting this team. To do that, he decided to move Kyle Palmieri up to the top line along with Hall and Hischier, and move Bratt down to the second line. The result has proven one key point - boy Hischier and Hall are good, they are great together, and there is a strong chance that they could play with basically anyone else on the team and still perform positively.
On Thursday night against a very good 5v5 team in Carolina, that top line dominated. Playing almost all of his 5v5 time with that dynamic duo, Palmieri on that top line crushed the Canes, posting over a 70% CF with both players. This is against a Carolina team that was ranked 1st in CF% at 5 on 5 action when I checked yesterday, with a CF% of 53.66%.
The game before, against Philly, is where you can really see the dominance that is Hall-Hischier. In that game, both Palmieri and Bratt got decent time with that connection. Palmieri played with them more, but Bratt had almost 4 minutes with Hall and 4 and a half minutes with Hischier, which is a decent amount of time in one game when it comes to gauging a line. In that game, both Bratt and Palmieri had their best numbers when playing on that top line. In his shorter amount of time, Bratt pulled a 66.7% CF with Hischier and a 80% CF with Hall. Those were some of his best possession numbers of the night with any forwards. He had 100% CF with Travis Zajac, but they played less than 1 minute together. Palmieri, playing around 6 minutes at 5v5 with both Hall and Hischier, also had a 66.7% CF with Nico, and a 75% CF with Hall. Again, excellent numbers with those two.
Now, I would not recommend just throwing anyone on the top line with those two simply because they are so good. For example, would Jimmy Hayes improve his game by playing top line minutes with Taylor and Nico? Absolutely. However, he has been particularly poor, with the team’s player usage chart really calling him out. But when Hynes wants to shake things up to generate offense, what this has shown is that he can really throw multiple different skaters on the top line with Hall-Hischier and those two should be able to pick up that third person’s game and maintain a dominant line. If they feel Nick Lappin deserves a prolonged chance on the top 6, and they needed to put him on the top line for a little bit, he could probably do quite well there given how those two do. Lappin might not be the talent that Palms or Bratt are, but I would not expect that line to all of a sudden fall apart without a talented right winger. You could throw in a replacement level winger and most likely Hall and Hischier will make that player look better than they actually are.
Of course, if you have been reading this website regularly or most anyone who follows the Devils and writes about the team, you have seen many puff pieces about Taylor Hall. And these are properly done and well deserved. Who has been more valuable to their team than Hall has been to New Jersey? But what is also hugely important has been the connection between Hall and Nico Hischier. These two have combined for a great pair, and have generated really positive results with whoever has been the third player on that line. On Thursday night, the benefactor was Kyle Palmieri, and he responded with what turned out to be the game winning goal.
Although the third guy in the line has been a great benefactor of Hall-Hischier, given how great Hall has been, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the connection has been Nico himself? He has played considerably well on that line with Hall. What better way is there to break into the NHL as a first overall pick then to play with such a great talent in Hall, who clearly makes everyone around him a better player? Nico has the biggest negative drop in goals vs. expectations on New Jersey, meaning that the way he is playing, he should be scoring a lot more than he actually is. He is playing very well, and still scoring points, but should be scoring more. That is a great start for a rookie center who will only continue to improve for years and years, especially if he can continue along with Hall.
In the end, what is clear is that having Nico and Taylor playing so well together on the top line is a great thing for Hynes and the Devils to have. They can be flexible with their roster, especially their right wingers, and still roll out a top line that will regularly crush their opposition. Want to play Bratt up there? Sounds good, that line will roll. Want to get Palms rolling and put him up there? Awesome, he can score game winning goals. The options are there for the coaching staff, and that is never a bad thing. Hall-Hischer could be a top line connection for New Jersey that dominates for a long time to come, and that is awesome to think about as a Devils fan.