The 2021 NHL season has not been what I would call “kind” to our New Jersey Devils. The team has dealt with injuries, in-game struggles, and even a Covid-19 outbreak among members of the roster. If there’s one player who has had it rougher than the rest though, I would have to say it’s Nico Hischier. His roller coaster year has seen him injured while training prior to the season’s start, coming back and being named the team’s captain, only to be injured again in just his fifth appearance of the campaign.
It’s only fair to ask with such a key member of the Devils missing time so much time this season if the Devils would be faring better overall if he hadn’t. Prior to P.K. Subban obliterating him with a slapshot, Nico’s game was starting to round into form. We all know Hischier is going to be a cornerstone for this franchise moving forward, and to see a prime season going mostly down the drain is disappointing.
His first three games this year were essentially nothing outings; while he had the occasional bright spot, he looked like a player who hadn’t played an NHL game in 9+ months, and that was to be expected. Nico was in an even worse spot than the rest of the roster, as the initial leg injury caused him to miss the start of training camp, meaning those first few games were in essence his training camp. The two games prior to and including Slapshotgate would see him post three points and look more like the Nico we’re accustomed to.
While we don’t have any conclusive proof of this, or really a way to measure with such a small sample size, I’m comfortable in saying that if the Devils had a healthy Hischier to start the season, they would still be firmly in the playoff race for the East. Now maybe you don’t believe that he is a big enough impact player for that to be the case; however, keep in mind this would mean one of the underperforming or lesser skilled forwards comes out.
So rather than watching the struggles of “Still a Ghost” Andreas Johnsson, or Nikita Gusev, or one of the fourth liners who hit a slump, the Devils could have had a contributor (at least defensively) in the lineup. If that were the case, some of the Devils’ close losses may not have resulted in said losses; at the very least, maybe there would have been a couple more overtime points picked up, if not wins entirely.
I can’t say the entire season has been a bust just due to Nico’s absence, but it has certainly exacerbated the problems that the team has faced. A Top 6 forward is never easy to replace, and when you consider Nico’s effectiveness in all areas of the ice, it becomes even more difficult. Hopefully once he fully recovers from his concussion and sinus fracture surgery, he is able to stay in the lineup for the rest of the year, which would enable him to find some chemistry with some of the rookie additions this year to take the team further in 2021-21.
What are your thoughts on Nico Hischier’s lack of a 2021 season; is it one of the primary causes for the team’s woes? What did you think of his performance during the games that he did appear in so far? Are you excited to see him replace anyone in particular in the lineup upon his return? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!