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Nico Hischier’s Underrated Season

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Due to several amazing rookies and a Hart-contender on his own line, the success story of the Devils’ first overall pick has gone largely untold ... until now.

Calgary Flames v New Jersey Devils Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Nico Hischier was the #1 overall pick and given how much he has outperformed what was his main competition at that pick, Nolan Patrick (6G, 9A), he’s not been a disappointment by anyone’s reckoning. However, with linemate Taylor Hall getting Hart buzz in the twittersphere, and several rookies having extremely impressive showings in 2017-18 so far, Hischier has gone largely overlooked in just how great his season has been.

Among Devils

Nico Hischier is pretty obviously the second best Devil on the team. Taylor Hall should be a Hart contender in most Devils fans’ eyes — and will be if he continues this torrid pace. But after him, no one has a particularly strong case for 2nd best Devil other than Nico. Nico has 6 more points than 3rd-place Jesper Bratt with 39 in his team-high 59 games played (he’s the only player to play in every game this season) which trails only Taylor Hall’s absurd 62 points in 54 games. At 5v5 play he actually only trails Hall by 4 though, and leads 3rd place Wood by 8 (via Corsica)

But aside from the point totals, he’s performing well in the underlying stats as well. Predictably, his Corsi is among the highest on the team (trails only Noesen, Hall, and Wood in CF%Rel-SVA). But he’s generating independent from Taylor Hall as well. He’s assisted goals for 11 different Devils, and had his goals assisted by 12 different Devils (via Natural Stat Trick). He also has positive relative stats in everything even when you take Hall off his wing (via NST again).

And he’s generating in transition. Below you will see some charts made by your’s truly using Corey Sznajder’s All-Three-Zone data. Nico is 2nd, behind only Hall, in zone entry rate; 3rd, behind only Will Butcher and low-sample Marcus Johansson, in exit rate; and is 2nd behind Hall in shot contribution rate, but first in shot assist rate.

Among Rookies

Nico is the most encouraging rookie forward in the league. Yes I said it. He might be the most encouraging rookie period, but it’s tougher to compare to rookie defenders so I went with the more conservative statement. Nico trails only Matt Barzal in 5v5 points. He narrowly edges out Yanni Gourde and Kyle Connor, and there’s some more space between he and Brock Boeser’s tier.

Many higher-end rookies like Barzal and Boeser rack up a lot of powerplay points (19 and 22 to Nico’s 6) which gives them higher numbers overall. I’m not completely ignoring that aspect of the game, merely recognizing that 5v5 is more repeatable, and Nico has not played a lot of time on the 1st PP unit for the Devils (Only 16/120 minutes have been with Hall). At 5v5, Nico is just as good as any of those players. And I would argue he is even better.

Despite playing with the best skater (Hall) of any of the rookies I just mentioned, Nico is most capable of thriving away from his most frequent linemate. The most common linemates for Hischier, Barzal, Gourde, Connor, and Boeser are: Hall, Jordan Eberle, Brayden Point, Blake Wheeler, and Bo Horvat, respectively. Only one of the rookies has a positive relative corsi away from those linemates — Nico. And only one player improves away from that linemate — Nico.

Boeser goes from a +1.94% CF%Rel (Score/Venue-Adjusted) with Horvat to a -3.57% without him, Connor goes from -4.29% to -6.17% without Wheeler, Gourde sees his +1.34% decrease to -0.55% sans Point, and Barzal plummets from an elite +8.38% to a thoroughly mediocre -0.34% away from Eberle. By comparison, Nico’s CF%Rel actually rises from +1.49 to +2.37 when Hall is taken off his wing.

Among All NHLers

Nico is not only, very possibly, the best 5v5 rookie in the NHL — he’s among the best overall players at 5v5. According to Corsica, Nico Hischier is 24th in the NHL among skaters with at least 200 minutes played in ixGF/60 (expected goals per hour). This is what has made his current (as of this article) scoring streak thoroughly unsurprising. Nico is in opportunities to put the puck in the back of the net at 5v5 play just as much as most elite players in the league.

And it’s not just in this fuzzy stat world of “expected goals” that he excels. In primary points/60 (goals and first assist) Nico Hischier is 12th in the NHL. As just a taste of how good that is, the next 6 names on the list are Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Evgeni Malkin, Leon Draisaitl, Patrice Bergeron, and Johnny Gaudreau. He either scores, or directly sets up a goal more times per minute than all of those guys.

It’s also not even just the shallow stats, though. He’s among the best transition players in the NHL as well. According to my Player Comparison tool for A3Z stats, Nico Hischier is absolutely stellar in moving the puck forward from anywhere on the ice.

In fact, just for fun, I calculated the average percentiles of every skater to see where he’d fall. Nico’s average percentile is 87.15 which is 17th among all skaters. For some context, his downstairs neighbor at 18th overall is Evgeny Kuznetzov, who’s okay at hockey as well. This type of speed through the neutral zone makes him an absolute chore for opposing teams to deal with. According to Corsica, he is tied for 6th in the NHL with 21 penalties drawn, and 8th in the NHL in penalty differential with +13. If he doesn’t beat you on the scoreboard, he can get you in transition, and if he didn’t beat you in transition, it’s probably beccause you took a penalty.

Concluding Thoughts

There is just so much to like about Nico’s game, and from every goalie making a Sports Center top 10 save against him, to hitting and every post in the NHL early in the season, to having multiple points overturned due to referee reviews, it’s great to see him finally get a run of easy-to-see production here. He’s among the most lethal players in the league — no qualifying statements necessary.

Oh, and one thing I didn’t mention in all of these stats — he’s doing it as the youngest player in the league, while playing as the first line center against top competition.

#N1CO

Your Take

What do you guys think about our golden boy? Where do you place him in the league at this point? Is he a legit 1C? Is he not getting enough recognition among Rookies? How important has he been to the Devils? Leave your thoughts below, and, as always, thanks for reading!