On June 25th, 2010, the Edmonton Oilers selected Taylor Hall with the first overall pick. After the #OneForOne trade with Edmonton, the Devils swapped Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall. Then, 2559 days after Hall was selected, the New Jersey Devils select Nico Hischier with the first overall pick giving them two top draft selections. In the 2017-18, Hall was selected as the Hart Trophy Winner for being the NHL’s most valuable player. Hischier was outside the top 5 just among rookies. The general opinion of the Devils is that it’s Hall .... then everybody else. But could it be Hall/Nico very soon? How soon is it reasonable to think Nico could surpass Hall? Let’s compare just their rookie seasons in a variety of statistical measures. All statistics below were collected via Corsica.
1) Point production
First of all, it’s clear that Hall was used much more than Nico in his rookie year. With no one on the 2010-11 Oilers team eclipsing 43 points, Hall had notably more weight to carry. As a result he led the team’s forwards in even-strength ice time. Interestingly, though, Nico’s point production rate was nearly double that of Hall’s at even strength. Hall’s goal rate in all situations is aided by his powerplay scoring (8 goals to Nico’s 1), but even including the PP rate, his overall primary points per 60 minutes (P1/60) were still less than Nico’s. Game score is a metric designed to encompass many aspects of the game including scoring, penalties, possession, and faceoffs. Nico was better than Hall both in total and in efficiency in that metric as well.
It would appear that on this method of assessment, it’s really no contest — Nico was much more productive. An obvious contaminating factor here is that Nico played with Hall and Hall played with no one. Another factor is that the NHL experienced about 6.5% more goals in Nico’s rookie year than Hall’s. Let’s move away from stats that are teammate-effected and suffer from inflation to some other counting stats.
Other Counting Stats
Taylor Hall took penalties at a slightly faster rate than Nico, but also drew them even more prolifically. In net, it appears the team benefited from Hall’ss special teams contributions, both in transitioning between states and on performance within them, than Nico’s. Nico has to take draws — a skill that he’s better than Taylor Hall at, but still not particularly good. Despite being better than Hall at this skill, it’s likely that he’s hurting the team in the metric. It’s like a 0.800 Sv% goalie that faced 5 shots and let one in vs a 0.898 goalie who faced over 1700 shots. The second one was more harmful even if the first was worse at their job. Lastly, giveaways/takeaways are notoriously specious, but the contrast is nonetheless stark between the two of them with Hall barely breaking even and Nico having one of the most aggressive sticks in the league. I’d give Hall a slight edge in this category due to unreliability of the turnover stats, and Nico’s failure in the larger faceoff responsibility.
So we looked at stats that are influenced by teammates, and some stats that are a little unreliable. Let’s now look at the more repeatable and predictive metrics.
The easiest thing to notice is that Hall was a much more prolific shooter (topping Nico by over 40%). But an interesting caveat to this is that Nico was actually a more dangerous shooter, thanks to notably more dangerous shots — Nico had 88 5v5 high-danger chances to Hall’s 68. This could feasibly be partially a consequence of Hall’s exceptional passing though so let’s finally look at something that adjusts for this fact — relative to teammate metrics. To learn more on these stats, check out EvolvingWild’s writeup on, what was originally David Johnson’s creation. Barring Sedin-esque time spent together, this can tease apart the impact of linemates pretty well. The RelT metrics in the chart are adjusted for score, venue, and strength.
Hall’s impact on shot attempts was a little better than Nico’s, Nico’s impact on goals was much better than Hall’s, and Hall impacted expected goals slightly more than Nico at 5v5 but was vastly inferior when looking at all situations. It’s difficult to make a conclusive claim on impact from these comparisons, but I think the all-situation adjusted RelT xGF% being so clearly in Nico’s favor is the tiebreaker.
Since it’s sometimes difficult to weigh the value of each of these metrics, let’s finally look at a catch-all metric — WAR.
The cGAR is from Corsica and the eGAR is from Evolving-Hockey. I averaged them and showed what that would look like per game and per minute. Nico was over two times more valuable than Taylor Hall in their rookie seasons on these models. Worth noting that in another, slightly less-cited, model by Chace McCallum, they’re neck and neck. But I’d say that in comparing the totality of their rookie seasons, it shouldn’t be overly controversial to state that Nico reached a notably higher level of success than Hall.
What does this mean?
There are a couple of important consequences of arriving at the stance that Nico had a better rookie season than Taylor Hall, which is what I’m claiming — you may or may not agree based on the evidence in this piece. Hall doubled his GAR value in his 2nd year and scored 11 more points in 4 less games. He went from 112th in points per game to 29th. Nico was 127th last year so how much could he climb? Top 50 seems reasonable — that would give the Devils a bonafide #1 and #2 scorer. In EW’s GAR/60, Hall became the 16th most valuable per minute player. It’s not unreasonable for Nico to ascend to league-elite as soon as next year given what we know about age curves. I’ve argued that he was already an elite 5v5 performer last year.
Another interesting consequence is the landscape of this team. Taylor Hall is the superstar right now and everyone else is just in orbit around him. However, Hall is on the wrong side of the age curve and Nico is on the right side. Furthermore, Nico seems to just as encouraging — or, I’d argue, more encouraging — as Hall was after his rookie year.
How soon will Nico become the best player on the Devils? I’m not sure, but I bet it’s way sooner than most expect.
Do you think Nico will eclipse Hall eventually as the best player on the Devils? If so, when? How do you think their rookie seasons compared? Given Hall’s massively worse team, do you think his year was similarly impressive to Nico’s on a line with the MVP?
Leave your thoughts below and, as always, thanks for reading!