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Is Nico Barely a Top 100 Skater? Really?

One really good follow on hockey Twitter is JFresh. He recently surveyed fans to see who the best skaters in the NHL were. As might not surprise you, Nico was definitely slighted with his ranking.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Last week, on Twitter, JFresh did fan polls regarding who are the best players in the NHL at different positions. After each individual position was completed for skaters, he then combined the results for the top 100 skaters as voted on by the people. As he noted, thousands of different people voted in this. Of course, we will never know the fandom and disposition of those thousands, but it is still interesting to see what hockey fanatics (and they have to be fanatics to be voting on hockey player rankings in the dead of summer) think about who are the best players in the league.

The results of the overall top 100 can be found in this tweet here. Here is a snapshot of the graph:

In that chart, you will happen to see 4 players from the New Jersey Devils made the list. For a team that can’t get out of its own way, that isn’t terrible all things considered. 32 teams x 4 players would equal 128 players, so the Devils have more than the average representation. Jack Hughes tops Devils at 41 overall, and he was ranked the 11th best center in the league from the JFresh polling, so people are high on him, as they should be. The talent is clearly there, and there is still room for considerable improvement, so the upside, already combined with a high floor, is tantalizing.

Next, Dougie Hamilton polled in at 47 overall, and as the 15th best defenseman. Considering his injury last season, it is hard to argue with that overall. He might have been ranked higher last summer after some real quality seasons in Carolina, but a shortened year isn’t going to help, even if he was good while available. After Dougie, Jesper Bratt ranks 73rd overall and #13 among right wingers. If you just look at last season alone, that is a huge insult to him. He was, given what you saw last year, absolutely a top 5-7 right winger and a top 50 NHLer, if not better (the top 5 right wingers in that poll were Kucherov, Marner, Rantanen, Pastrnak, and Kane. Hard to argue those, and then Stamkos was 6). Considering we here at AATJ considered him the team MVP this year, we might have put him above Jack at #41. However, remember, he has only shown this dominance for one season, and that has to be given some merit. If he can repeat what he just did next season as well, I think his stock will jump considerably among those who fill out these polls.

Finally, and in my opinion, a more legitimate slight than Bratt at 73 is Nico Hischier, who came in ranked #94, just making the top 100. He was also ranked as the 28th best center in the league, another terrible slight. Look at the other names just above him at 94. The fans who took this poll consider him on the same level, or just worse, than Ryan Pulock, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Trevor Zegras, and Pavel Buchnevich. Those are the skaters ranked 93-90, respectively. I’m sorry, but I’m taking Nico over all four of them, and without debate. Kuznetsov has had himself a hell of a career so far, and just had 78 points in 79 regular season games last year, but I’m still taking Nico at 23 over Kuznetsov at 30, especially since Evgeny gets most of his points off of assists and plays with the greatest goal scorer of our generation. I don’t think I even need to bring up Pulock, and Buchnevich is sort of like Bratt in that he had one dominant year this past season, and otherwise he was good but not amazing in New York. Zegras could be a stud and the one you might want to argue about taking over Nico, but at 21 years old and with so little NHL experience, he is a true wild card.

I think it really is true that those who do not watch Nico on a regular basis and don’t follow the team as closely as us fans do, just don’t realize how good Nico really is. Like, let’s just jump 30 spots in the rankings here. #64 is Kevin Fiala, 65 is Brady Tkachuk, and 66 is Ryan O’Reilly. Would you want Nico over any or all of those guys? I could certainly make the argument for him over any of those three, and I’m sure you could too. Now, just above them, I think it starts to get a little more crowded with talent. #63 is William Nylander, 62 is Mark Scheifele, and 61 is Patrik Laine. Nylander and Scheifele are studs in my opinion, and Laine might be a controversial player, but you can’t deny his talent. Now, you still might want Nico over some or all of those guys, but it definitely is getting closer. But that’s just the thing. I am saying that the question of who to take, Nico or someone else, starts to get tough at 63 overall. Nico is ranked #94 on this list. At a minimum, that is undervaluing the Devils’ captain by 30 positions in the rankings.

Now, you might also want to make some other criticisms. I’m sure we all could. Another one, for example, is that Jonas Siegenthaler, the best Devils defender last season, isn’t on this list. He was ranked #85 among NHL defenders, never mind making the top 100 overall. Meanwhile, Damon Severson was ranked #57 among defensemen, so obviously Siegenthaler was slept on by most people who took this survey. Another strong season from him and things should change. You might even argue that the Siegenthaler position is more of a slight than the Nico ranking, and it would be a decent argument. But when I first looked at this, my initial shock was at how low Nico was ranked, and how people outside of New Jersey obviously do not look at him the way we do. Will that change? Great question, but only time will tell.