Nico Hischier has been everything the New Jersey Devils envisioned and more since they selected him No. 1 in the 2017 NHL Draft.
The rookie center plays a 200-foot game, is passionate about winning and helped Taylor Hall reach NHL career highs in goals (39), assists (54) and points (93) while playing with him on the top line for much of the season.
"I just think I help the team win," Hischier said. "I try to do as much as I can. I'm proud to be part of this team because we're great guys, great players, and we really have one goal. I just try to play my part to help get us that goal."
The goal, of course, is winning the Stanley Cup. It's something Hischier hopes he can help make possible, beginning when New Jersey opens the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round at Amalie Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).
Never has a player selected No. 1 in the NHL Draft won the Stanley Cup in the season following his draft year.
Hischier has already helped New Jersey reach the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. He is expected to play a major role for the Devils in the postseason, and it has everything to do with his elite talent and humble personality.
"We talk about guys being self-starters, meaning they love the game, enjoy practice, like the competition," Devils coach John Hynes said. "In Hischier's case, the season doesn't become a grind because of how much passion he has for the game. Hockey is the most important thing for Nico Hischier."
Hynes said Hischier should absolutely be considered for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.
"Taylor Hall has had a great year but when you watch the video, watch our games, Nico Hischier does all the thankless jobs in the game," Hynes said. "He gets to the net front, he's the first forward back on the back check, he's good on faceoffs, he can dish the puck to high-skilled players."
Hischier, who played all 82 games, was second on the Devils in points (52), third in goals (20) and assists (32), and finished in the top 10 among NHL rookies in those categories. (Hall led New Jersey in all three.)
"With Nico, you're talking about a 19-year-old kid who could be as good defensively as (New Jersey forward) Travis Zajac and that's why he's been able to play in the role he's had," Hynes said. "He's a guy we don't shelter. Maybe in the beginning of the year we did a little, but this guy has been rolled out there and done it time and again."
Hall was chosen No. 1 in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. He said it's difficult to compare his rookie season (2010-11) with Hischier's.
"Our Edmonton team in my first season wasn't very good, and I got hurt in Game 65 and was kind of out for the season," said Hall, who had 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) in 65 games that season. "For Nico, he was thrown into the fire as an 18-year-old center and has been relied on so much. He's the first guy out in overtime, he kills penalties. There's a lot of responsibility there and I think his personality is really a benefit. He's a pretty laid-back guy.
"He might not know how important he is to our team at this point, but we all know his importance."
Hall played a big part in helping Connor McDavid as a rookie with Edmonton in 2015-16, when the center had 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) in 45 games. Hall and Hischier have had similar chemistry.
"McDavid was on his own planet," Hall said. "There's only been three or four players in the world ever to be as good as him. With Nico, I think right away you saw confidence, and the biggest thing for me was his grittiness. He goes to the hard areas, drives the net and is not afraid to use his body and play physical."
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby said Hischier (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) is one of the most responsible young players in the League. The Devils were 3-0-1 against the Penguins this season.
"You can tell he's got all that offensive ability but I think he's mindful of his own end and playing good defensively, too," Crosby said. "That's always somewhat of an adjustment for a young player, but you can tell he's really committed to doing that and he's definitely a two-way player."
Hischier's competitiveness is one of many strengths. Hynes said he has no issues with putting Hischier on the ice for a big face-off in a game that is tied late.
"I like the tight games and the challenges," Hischier said. "It's just part of my game style. I have to compete because if I'm not, I'm not playing my best hockey. In the NHL, you can't take time off. You have to compete every second of every game and that's what I try to do."