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Nico Hischier Needs Some More Praise

As the captain of the Devils, fans of this team know just how important Nico Hischier is. However, based on what has happened since he has come back from injury, he needs some more spotlight on him, which I want to do today.

NHL: NOV 30 Devils at Flyers Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There is no doubt that Nico Hischier gets plenty of praise and admiration from fans of the New Jersey Devils. Those who watch this team regularly, and have for years, can see the impact that he has on this club, both on and off the ice. His presence as team captain is no small thing, and what he does on the ice in terms of lifting the play of those around him is obvious.

That being said, what we have seen in terms of a turnaround for the Devils since he has returned from injury is something to really take note of. Hischier has played in 6 games since he came back from injury, starting with the November 25th game against Buffalo. In those six games, the Devils as a team are 5-1-0, improving their record from 8-9-1, sub-NHL .500, to a much more respectable 13-10-1. It might not be where we were hoping or even expecting them to be at this point, but it is much better than where they were a couple of weeks ago.

So, how can we quantify what Nico is doing for this team by his presence in these games? Obviously, points scored is one thing, and he does have 7 points in these last 6 games, 2 goals, and 5 assists. He has at least one point in every win the team has had since he has returned, and anyone producing over a point per game for a stretch is going to seriously improve his team’s odds of winning in the NHL. But while points are a big deal, and directly relate to wins and losses, they are not the only way we can see his impact on this team. Let’s also see how his teammates are performing on the ice when they are playing with Nico versus when they are not.

Here is a chart of Hischier’s With or Without You Stats, thanks to Natural Stat Trick. I will chart all skaters who have played at least 30 minutes at 5 on 5 with him, both forwards and defensemen. Obviously, the less time someone has played with him, the less reliable these numbers and the more they are left up to chance or luck, but in truth, only 5 skaters have played at least 50 5v5 minutes with Nico this year, and I wanted a bigger sample of players, so I added in the others so you can see a larger impact he is having on the entire team.

So the numbers that matter the most are those at the top of the list, especially Ondrej Palat and Jesper Bratt, who have been his linemates for the majority of the season. And they are significantly better when playing with Nico versus without. Palat’s Corsi goes up around 14%, and his expected goals go up over 35% when with Hischier. Bratt’s Corsi goes up around 12%, and his expected goals up up almost 26% when with the captain. Those are significant differences in possession and expected goals for those who have played over 100 minutes of 5v5 hockey together.

For the rest of them, most still gain an advantage from playing with Nico versus without. It would be easier to discuss those who do not, as only two of the eight skaters listed actually have better numbers playing without him. Luke Hughes, who has 46 minutes with Nico versus 104 without, is slightly better without him, having a 3% better Corsi and 6% better xGF without number 13. Dawson Mercer is the other outlier, having a 4% better Corsi and a 10% better xGF without Nico. Those are fairly significant numbers, especially for Mercer, whose 10% difference in expected goals is a noticeable outlier. For all the rest, however, they gain a noticeable boost from sharing the ice with the captain. And the rest are all defensemen, as Lindy Ruff and Co. have done a good job of letting that Bratt - Hichier - Palat line grow together and play a lot.

There are really 2 major takeaways from this chart: 1. Nico’s linemates do not have nearly the same impact without him, and 2. The defense has way better metrics when their pairing is out on the ice with Nico’s line. You could also add the 3rd on an inference: Don’t split up the Bratt - Hischier - Palat line, but the two direct takeaways are positive for both Nico and this team when he is healthy. The job he does when on the ice is more than just producing points, which he has been doing in spades since his return. He lifts almost all of those around him as well, making them into better players, putting them in better situations to succeed, and giving the team an easier time to tilt the ice in their favor.

So, let’s all be thankful that Nico is back and came back when he did, because if he was still injured, who knows what the Devils’ record would be now, and if they had lost the majority of the last six games and were even further under .500, it could already be game over for this team.