The New Jersey Devils may have finally found the new face of the franchise.
In the 2017 Draft in Chicago, the Devils selected Swiss sensation Nico Hischier with the No.1 overall pick, making him the first Swiss-born player ever to be selected with the top pick in the entry draft. Prior to the selection, Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter was selected fifth overall by the New York Islanders.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) June 24, 2017
The 18-year-old from Naters, Switzerland was a force in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League racking up 86 points in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads. He led the team in goals with 38 while also recording 48 assists. The selection of one of this year’s couldn’t come at a better time for the struggling franchise.
And it didn’t take long for his future teammates to send thier congratulations.
Huge welcome @nicohischier to NJ. Excited to have you! ??
— Taylor Hall (@hallsy09) June 23, 2017
— Adam Henrique (@AdamHenrique) June 23, 2017
In fact, one might say that Hischier being selected by the Devils was the culmination of nearly four years of struggle.
It was a long and brutal fall from grace for the Devils, one of the premier teams in the NHL during the 1990s and 2000s. The climb to grace started in 1995 after New Jersey swept the Detroit Red Wings to hoist Lord Stanley’s cup.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) June 24, 2017
The ascension was solidified when the Devils won two cups in three years (2000 and 2003) giving them three Stanley Cups in less than a decade.
In the late-2000s, the franchise still looked like a team that was destined to be a constant cup contender, led by Patrick Elias and the rising star in Zach Parise, who joined the team as a rookie in 2009 to lead the team with 45 goals and 94 points.
In the 2010 offseason, the team acquired superstar Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers, who were unable to sign the Russian star after he reportedly turned down 12-year, $102 million and 7-year, $70 million contract offers from the Thrashers.
The Devils signed Kovalchuk to a 15-year, $100 million contract days after the NHL blocked a 17-year, $102 million contract offer due to the league’s salary cap.
In 2011, the Devils appeared to make a return to glory, with Parise, Elias and Kovalchuk being joined by rookie Adam Henrique to create a vaunting offensive machine. The trio of veterans each registered 30 or more goals while Henrique tallied 51 points, enough to earn him a nod for the Calder trophy. Making it to the Stanley Cup Final, the Devils – trailing 3-0 to the Los Angeles Kings – were unable to force a Game 7 despite winning back-to-back games.
The events that took place in the offseason of 2012 and 2013 nearly sent the team to the dark ages. The Devils lost two of their top scorers in Parise and Kovalchuk. Parise opted to sign a 13-year, $96 million contract with the Minnesota Wild while Kovalchuk – just three years into his record-breaking contract – opted to retire from the NHL to head back to his native Russia. With future Hall of Famer Martin Broduer starting to show signs of aging, New Jersey was left with no identity.
A face of the franchise was missing.
Similar to how the years of Stanley Cup glory were assembled, the Devils made a trade with the Vancouver Canucks during the 2013 NHL Entry Draft to acquire goaltender Cory Schneider, Broduer’s eventual replacement.
However, despite signing 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who led the team in scoring in his only season with the Devils, they were still searching for that offensive weapon to pair with Elias and Henrique.
They would receive that weapon in a former No.1 overall pick.
During the 2016 offseason, the New Jersey Devils made a deal with the Edmonton Oilers to acquire Taylor Hall for defenseman Adam Larsson. In 72 games, Hall recorded 53 points, scoring 20 goals and adding 33 assists. Four of those 20 goals were game-winners.
The search for the missing piece of the offensive attack ended with the selection of Hischier. The Devils have their quality goaltending, an offensive threat in Hall and now the face with Hischier. While it may be a tad early to peg him as Day 1 NHL player, General Manager Ray Shero noted in the team’s introductory press conference that they already have a spot for him and that they will see where it goes.
“We feel that his competitive level, his speed, his skill set and his hockey sense are all at a National Hockey League level,” he added.
Devils fans may not have to wait long to see what the future holds for the franchise with the 2017 No.1 pick at the helm.
- Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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