Why Nico Hischier Should Be The Next Captain Of The New Jersey Devils

It’s been about seven months since then interim General Manager Tom Fitzgerald dealt Andy Greene to the New York Islanders in exchange for a second round pick and prospect David Quenneville; leaving the Devils as one of the five teams in the NHL currently lacking a captain. With new head coach Lindy Ruff in the fold (for more information on the hire, read more here), the decision can now be made to name Greene’s successor. This article explains why we believe, the choice is a very easy one for the Devils to make, and why it’s not as unprecedented as some people would think.

On June 23rd, 2017, the New Jersey Devils selected Nico Hischier with the first overall selection in the 2017 NHL draft. Leading up to the draft, members of the media was unsure whether or not there was a consensus #1 overall pick, as the debate Nico vs. Nolan (Patrick), emerged for the hockey world to speculate on. Three years later, it appeared like the Devils made the right decision, as Hischier has outperformed Patrick in every sense. Below is a table of career AB scores of all skaters drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 NHL entry draft, as well as players drafted in the later rounds that we have data on.  

PlayerTeamCareer AB
Nico HischierNJD+2.79
Nolan PatrickPHI-0.58
Miro HeiskanenDAL-0.85
Cale MakarCOL+6.04
Elias PetterssonVAN+8.65
Cody GlassVGK-3.05
Lias AnderssonNYR-8.11
Casey MittelstadtBUF-4.33
Michael RasmussenDET-5.52
Owen TippettFLAN/A
Gabriel VilardiLAK+2.62
Martin NecasCAR-1.22
Nick SuzukiMTL-6.76
Cal FooteTBLN/A
Erik BrannstromVGK-6.32
Juuso VälimäkiCGY-3.07
Timothy LiljegrenTOR-5.87
Urho VaakanainenBOSN/A
Josh NorrisSJSN/A
Robert ThomasSTL+1.79
Filip ChytilNYR-6.72
Kailer YamamotoEDM+5.79
Pierre-Olivier JosephARIN/A
Kristian VesalainenWPGN/A
Ryan PoehlingMTL-3.24
Morgan FrostPHI+1.39
Henri JokiharjuCHI-8.24
Shane BowersOTTN/A
Eeli TolvanenNSHN/A
Klim KostinSTLN/A
Jesper BoqvistNJD-4.50
Nicolas HagueVGK-3.30
Alexandre TexierCBJ+2.75
Maxime ComtoisANA-0.32
Mario FerraroSJS-9.34
Gustav LindstromDET-12.98
Cale FleuryMTL-4.45
Emil BemstromCBJ-5.16
Drake BathersonOTT-0.26
Sebastian AhoNYI-1.96

As you can see from the above table, the majority (32/40) of players from this draft class that have played in the NHL at this point have negative career AB scores. In fact, the average career AB scores of all players in this draft class is a -2.4, while the average score of a forward is -1.96. Of the forty players we have data available for, only eight are positive players which we find simply amazing. In the three years of potential NHL seasons these prospects could have played in, Nico Hischier is the only player to play in more than ten games in all three seasons. In fact, in his rookie season, he registered a +11.38 score. This is the highest AB score registered by a #1 pick in their rookie year since Nathan MacKinnon’s +14.10 in the 2014-15 season, and the second highest rookie #1 pick score in our database ever, trailing only MacKinnon. Out of the thirteen #1 picks we have data for, only seven registered positive AB scores their rookie seasons, and only four registered scores higher than +5.  To make Nico’s score even more absurd, fellow Devils #1 pick Jack Hughes’ rookie AB score was a -11.12, which is almost the exact opposite of Hirscher’s! That +11.38 score is also the 2nd highest score registered by a player in the 2017 draft class ever, trailing only Elias Pettersson’s +12.81 score in the 2019-20 campaign. Lastly, his 2017-18 score was the 2nd highest AB score ever registered by a rookie, trailing only Jake DeBrusk’s 2017-18 +32.09 score (the highest AB score ever recorded in our database).

Let us now discuss Hischier’s individual performance over his career at this point. In 209 career games played, Nico Hischier has scored 51 goals (0.24 per game), and 84 assists (0.4 per game), for a total of 135 points (0.64 per game). He has also registered 463 shots on goal (2.21 per game), while averaging 17.43 minutes per game. Not only is he contributing on the score sheet, he is evolving into one of the best two-way centers in hockey and keeps getting better. In three seasons, we have data available for forty-one different Devils players. These forty-one players have drawn 595 penalties and taken 626. Nico Hischier alone has drawn 79 penalties in three years and has only taken 20. Astonishingly, this means that 13% of all Devils penalties drawn over the last three seasons are from Nico Hischier alone. These 79 penalties are also the most drawn on the team over that time span, seventeen more than 2nd place Miles Wood, and twenty more than 3rd place Kyle Palmieri. In fact, over the course of his career at this point, Nico is averaging twenty more penalties drawn than taken with a 26:6 penalty drawn/taken ratio. He’s drawn the most penalties on the Devils in each of his three seasons with the exception of 2019-20, as he trailed only Miles Wood by a single penalty drawn. Despite this, Hischier took fifteen less penalties than Wood, giving him the better overall ratio.

Another incredibly impressive statistic is Nico’s giveaway/takeaway ratio over this three -year time span. In three seasons, Nico has an 86:136 giveaway/takeaway ratio, which is the 2nd highest on the team, trailing only Travis Zajac’s 65:141. Still, it is unbelievable he averages 28 giveaways and 45 takeaways per season, truly showing how he is progressing into an elite two-way center. In terms of his individual AB scores, he has registered scores that far exceed the Devils team average with the exception of this past season, where he actually had a score a tad bit under average. Overall, the average AB score for a Devils player was a -5.98 in the last three seasons, while Hischier’s career average was +2.79. Below is the table showing Nico’s scores relative to the rest of the Devils in each of his three seasons in the league. We could even argue, that based on how impactful he was, without his contributions to that 2017-18 Devils team, they would have missed the playoffs despite the Hart Trophy winning effort of Taylor Hall.

YearNico’s ScoreDevils AverageDifferenceOverall Devils Team Score
2017-18+11.38-0.29+11.67-6.29
2018-19+2.11-5.75+7.86-143.82
2019-20-5.11-4.76-0.35-95.11

At 21 years old, we believe Nico Hischier is ready to succeed Andy Greene and become the next Captain of the New Jersey Devils. We decided to look at the 26 captains in the league today and determine what their AB scores were in their first three seasons. Below is the table of current NHL captains AB scores over the course of their first three seasons.

Captain NameTeam3-year average AB score
Ryan GetzlafANA+3.15
Oliver Ekman-LarssonARI+0.60
Zdeno CharaBOS+7.27
Jack EichelBUF-5.78
Mark GiordanoCGY+0.02
Jordan StaalCAR+4.95
Jonathan ToewsCHI+10.59
Gabriel LandeskogCOL+6.06
Nick FolignoCBJ+0.93
Jamie BennDAL+3.70
Connor McDavidEDM+12.67
Aleksander BarkovFLA+3.72
Anze KopitarLAK-1.43
Mikko KoivuMIN+1.93
Shea WeberMTL-2.10
Roman JosiNSH-1.73
Anders LeeNYI-1.75
Claude GirouxPHI+6.71
Sidney CrosbyPIT+9.87
Logan CoutureSJS+4.50
Alex PietrangeloSTL+3.40
Steven StamkosTBL-0.43
John TavaresNYI-3.38
Bo HorvatVAN-6.58
Alex OvechkinWSH+15.97
Blake WheelerWPG+5.25

As the table says above, only 8/26 captains had negative AB scores in their first three seasons in the league. Of these eight, six of them were forwards. In total, Nico Hischier’s +2.79 three-year score would be greater than 46% (12/26) of all current NHL captains.

Based on these statistics, we believe Nico Hischier is the most qualified person to fill the Devils’ vacant Captain spot. When the Devils drafted him 1st overall, they expected him to develop into an elite caliber NHL talent which he clearly has, as he was an all-star this season for the team. Based on our research, we believe that AB scores are reflective of leadership qualities only certain players have. Nico Hischier is the type of player any NHL team would want, and at $7.5 million a year for the next seven years, the Devils franchise cornerstone is ready to take on an advanced leadership role. We will see if Devils management agrees, but this decision should be an easy one. More to come, as the draft and free agency are rapidly approaching.

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