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No. 1 pick Hischier scores in Devils debut

Center, fellow rookie Butcher impress coach in preseason win against Capitals

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

NEWARK, N.J. -- Nico Hischier, who was selected by the New Jersey Devils with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, scored a goal in his NHL preseason debut, a 4-1 victory against the Washington Capitals at Prudential Center on Monday.

Hischier, 18, played center on a line with forward prospect John Quenneville, the No. 30 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, and Jimmy Hayes, who was signed to a professional tryout contract Aug. 23.

Hischier at times showed his speed and finesse, including on his highlight-reel goal with 4:14 remaining in the third period to give the Devils a 4-1 lead. After taking the puck in the neutral zone, Hischier split two defenders at the blue line, broke in against goaltender Vitek Vanecek and scored off his backhand inside the right post.

 

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"As the game went on in the second and third period, he started to make a few more plays and got adjusted to the time and space and the battle level out there," coach John Hynes said. "On his goal, he was tenacious on the puck, and his work ethic allowed him to get into that situation to have a breakaway and allow his skill to take over."

The goal ignited the crowd, which chanted his name.

"I actually tried to freeze the goalie and got lucky a little bit that it went under his pad, but at the end it still counts," said Hischier, who had three shots on goal and was 3-for-10 on faceoffs in 13:37 of ice time. "I heard the fans. It was great."

Video: WSH@NJD: Hischier nets beautiful backhand goal

Hischier also had a nice move with four minutes left in the first period when he took a pass in the neutral zone and banked the puck to Hayes in the Capitals zone before taking a return pass. He missed on a wraparound attempt, but his creativity drew a hooking penalty on Washington forward Damien Riat.

Hischier wasn't the only New Jersey player under the spotlight in his first preseason game. 

Defenseman Will Butcher, who signed a two-year, entry-level contract with Devils on Aug. 27, led them in ice time (19:47) and shifts (27), and had two shots on goal, two steals and two blocked shots. He got extensive work on the power play (5:27) and appeared poised and confident in his decision-making and ability to move the puck. He used his stick well in fending off opposing forwards at his own blue line.

"He moved the puck well on the 5-on-5 breakout and on power play," Hynes said. "He made some good decisions on the power play; when to shoot and when to pass. We worked on his gap control and 1-on-1 defense, and I thought he showed lots of good signs there."

Butcher, 22, was the most sought-after college hockey free agent this offseason after he won the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA Division I men's hockey as a senior at the University of Denver. He visited with the Buffalo Sabres, Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, and Devils before choosing New Jersey. 

Butcher was paired with Dalton Prout and worked the left point for much of the game.

"I felt good but I'd be lying if I said wasn't a little bit nervous," Butcher said. "It was kind of nice to get a couple of power plays. I just have to keep working on my game moving forward. The biggest adjustment for me was the size of the players; they're way bigger here than in college."

Butcher took blame for the Capitals goal when he left forward Nathan Walker alone in the slot with the Devils on the power play. The Australian left wing dove to knock the puck inside the left post past goalie Keith Kinkaid to give Washington a 1-0 lead 4:26 into the first. 

"I got crossed up (with Kyle Palmieri), but it was my guy," Butcher said. "I didn't do a good job boxing out."

Butcher became a free agent Aug. 16 after deciding to not sign with the Colorado Avalanche, who selected him in the fifth round (No. 123) of the 2013 NHL Draft. He scored 37 points (seven goals, 30 assists) in 43 games last season for Denver, which won the NCAA championship.

Palmieri, who scored his first goal of the preseason, said the two rookies exceeded his expectations.

"They showed a lot of poise," he said. "When I was playing my first preseason games, there was a lot of nerves, and those two guys had bigger expectations than when I was trying to make a team in camp. It helped that they played in the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo last week and got some game action.

"I loved what I saw out of them and think they played as advertised. They both looked like they belonged."

Hischier might be given an opportunity to play center on the top line at some point in the preseason, particularly since first-line center Travis Zajac is expected to miss the first four months of the regular season after having surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle on Aug. 17. Marcus Johansson, acquired in a trade from the Capitals on July 2, was at center on the top line with left wing Taylor Hall and Palmieri on Monday.

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