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The New Jersey Devils should lock up Nico Hischier prior to the upcoming season, rather than waiting until next summer when his entry-level contract expires. At least they should try.
On the surface Hischier's numbers – 99 points in 151 games, good for ~54 per 82 – don't instil a ton of fear about what his next deal may cost.
When you do a little more digging, it's clear Hischier's value is already extremely high and there's reason to believe his counting totals could soon reflect that; thus, driving up the price on a new contract.
Take Hischier's 5v5 outputs, for example. He has spent two seasons on a Devils team that struggled to score, and played a good chunk of one of them without his best linemate in Taylor Hall. Despite that, Hischier's averaged 2.11 points per 60. Only 23 centers have been more efficient at 5v5, and the company Hischier's keeping is, uh, quite good.
Below are Hischier's rate numbers alongside nine of his closest comparables.
In Hischier's 18+19-year-old seasons, he managed to produce 5v5 points at a higher rate than Mark Scheifele, Nicklas Backstrom, Sean Couturier, and Logan Couture, as well as others not pictured such as Tyler Seguin, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar and Ryan O'Reilly. Not bad.
The reason Hischier's counting totals don't pop off the page like some of those guys essentially comes down to power play production.
Through two seasons Hischier has produced just 17 points in that game state (8.5 per season). Even if he's not a PP specialist, it's fair to suggest he's capable of producing a fair bit more than that – and soon.
Hischier didn't get to play in a natural spot where he has the puck a lot while on PP1 (Taylor Hall and Will Butcher ran things). On PP2, well, he didn't get much talent to work with. I mean, he's spent a similar amount of time on the PP with Drew Stafford and Brian Boyle as Taylor Hall. That's not ideal.
Even if Hischier remains on PP2 moving forward, he'll have a much better supporting cast than in years past.
Should Hischier's PP production spike, and his play continue to improve as a 20-year-old (a good bet, I'd say), his counting totals could look much better. More points = more money. The Toronto Maple Leafs found that out the hard way waiting on some of their RFAs (Mitch Marner's point total jumped 25 and he's now in line for $10M+ annually).
And if, somehow, Hischier's offensive numbers don't improve much more? He is still a great player you should be willing to pay handsomely.
Using Evolving-Hockey's Goals Above Replacement statistic, which combines even-strength + special teams impact and penalty differential to come up with one catch-all number, Hischier ranks 25th among forwards since entering the league.
Here is a look at the others worth between 25 and 30 GAR in that time.
I realize GAR is not a perfect stat and the be all end all of player evaluation but it's encouraging, and not at all a coincidence, Hischier is bunched in with players of such high caliber.
The Devils will almost certainly save themselves money if they take care of Hischier prior to a breakout season in 2019-20, which feels inevitable.
We'll see if they do it.
numbers via naturalstattrick.com and evolving-hockey.com
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