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Hischier performing beyond his years for Devils

Rookie center, 18, helping fuel New Jersey's success with maturity, accountability

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- Center Nico Hischier enjoys being considered a player who can contribute when called upon for the New Jersey Devils. 

It's not so easy when you are 18, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and playing for a team starving for success.

But Hischier has managed to do it all through the first 27 games of this season. 

He is third among NHL rookies in assists (15), tied for fourth in points (20) and seventh in shots on goal (59). He's a big reason the Devils, who play the Columbus Blue Jackets at Prudential Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, FS-O, NHL.TV), lead the Metropolitan Division with 36 points (16-7-4), one ahead of the Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals.

Perhaps Hischier's greatest contribution to the Devils has been the accountability and maturity he has shown. 

Video: FLA@NJD: Hischier buries quick shot from the slot

"Each day you learn something else in this League, and it's good to have guys in here who have been through the same things I go through," Hischier said. "There are also guys who have spent a long time in this League and know what you need to do in certain situations. They help me a lot."

Forward Taylor Hall, Hischier's linemate, can relate. He was chosen by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 1 pick of the 2010 NHL Draft before coming to the Devils in a trade for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29, 2016.

"[Hischier] is very mature and has handled being a center really well, probably something he or the coaches didn't expect," Hall said.

When Hischier was called for a hooking penalty 45 seconds into the first period of a 3-2 overtime loss against the Oilers on Nov. 9, it marked the second straight game he was penalized in the opening minute. He was called for tripping 36 seconds into the first during a 3-1 loss against the St. Louis Blues two days earlier.

Hischier understood the consequences.

"It was simple because coach [John Hynes] told us before the game that when you take a stupid penalty, he had to bench that guy for a little bit," Hischier said. "That was the rule. I knew what was expected and I took a stupid penalty and I knew I would sit for a little bit."

Hischier didn't return to the ice against the Oilers until 10:23 remained in the first period, yet received a season-high 21:18 in ice time.

"He wants to be held accountable like everyone else," Hynes said. "And I think that speaks volumes about his maturity in that way, his overall understanding and desire to be on a winning team and in a winning environment.

"Players want discipline, they don't want double standards. We show them video and discuss rules and how it's up to them in the game to take accountability. If they don't, there's only one option and that is I have to take your ice time away."

Video: NJD@CHI: Hischier fires wrister through Crawford

The lesson has been learned. Hischier has taken one minor penalty in 12 games since the infraction against Edmonton. His speed and creativity have drawn 13 penalties, second among NHL rookies this season.

Devils general manager Ray Shero said to move ahead in the NHL, it's imperative to have good stories. Hischier has certainly written his own unique chapter. 

"We weren't drafting by need when we selected Nico first overall," Shero said. "But you had him and [center] Nolan Patrick (taken No. 2 by the Philadelphia Flyers) and a few defensemen who are all going to be really good. If I was part of a different team maybe I'd think differently, but I saw Nico as a centericeman that we didn't have anywhere in the organization.

"We had good young players, but we didn't have anyone like him with the playmaking, the vision, the creativity. And he cares more defensively than he does offensively. It's starting to come together.

"With the No. 1 pick it's usually more about a need. But for us it was more about a style [in drafting Hischier], I guess."

Hischier's play has even given Hall plenty to smile about in his second season with New Jersey. Hall leads the Devils with 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) and 93 shots on goal in 27 games. 

His ninth goal came Tuesday when he took a pass from Hischier and scored in a 4-1 win against the Blue Jackets. 

"He's playing against top lines and defense pairs," Hall said. "Entering the season, maybe [the Devils] wanted to try and shelter him a little bit from that, but that hasn't been the case. He's playing against the top players every night and really holding his own That's an understated thing that's hard for young players to do.

"[Linemate] Jesper Bratt has done it well too. It's been a lot of fun playing with [Hischier] and seeing his maturity and confidence grow every day."

Hischier's highlight-reel pass to Hall in the second period of the win at Columbus was something Hynes couldn't help but appreciate.

After reaching the right face-off dot, Hischier cut back against defenseman Seth Jones and sent a tape-to-tape backdoor pass to Hall for the goal.

Video: NJD@OTT: Hischier chips in his second of the game

"To him it's just a pass. To everyone else it's an elite play," Hynes said of Hischier. "That's the difference when you have an elite hockey mind compared to everyone else."

Hischier has done well despite the pressure of playing in a top-six role for a team that hasn't qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. His ability to grasp concepts and learn from mistakes is a big reason for that.

"There are always going to be some games where things aren't going well or things are not the way you want them to go after a bad game," he said. "But I just forget about it and make sure I do better next game." 

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