Nico Hischier

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Hischier asked to be benched after penalty-filled stretch

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WINNIPEG — Nico Hischier might only be 18 years old, but he’s already revealing a maturity that’s well beyond his years.

New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero told The Star-Ledger this past week that the forward asked head coach John Hynes to “just (bleeping) bench me,” after the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft took a penalty 45 seconds into a 3-2 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 9.


Two nights earlier, in a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, Hischier took a penalty 36 seconds into the first period.

The Devils were shorthanded 44 times and were in the lower third of the league in terms of penalty kill percentage (79.6) in the month of October.

Something had to change.

“We had talked to the team about controlling (penalties) and if it didn’t get better, guys were going to sit for a certain amount of time,” Hynes said on Saturday. “We held strong to that and made it clear that it didn’t matter who it was.

“(Hischier) took a penalty the game before. We addressed in between games. He took the first penalty in the next (game) and he came back down and I said, ‘You’re going to have to sit for a bit,’ and he said, ‘I should. It’s my fault.’”

Hischier sat for just over seven minutes but still managed 21:18 of ice-time in the game. He hasn’t taken a penalty in three games since his brief foray riding the pine.

Hynes praised his rookie’s resolve as a team player that hasn’t put his ego before the team.

“He’s not one of these younger players that comes in and thinks, just because of where he was drafted or what his status is or because he’s a good player that he gets preferential treatment,” Hyne said. “That’s why he’s such a special guy for us to have on our team and in our organization. He’s an elite player that really understands what it means to be part of the team. Winning and the team comes before him and his ego.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Brian Gibbons taking advantage of NHL opportunity with Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. — Two full seasons in the American Hockey League, after a taste of NHL life, would give some players a mentality that a regular spot in The Show may never come again. Not Brian Gibbons.

The New Jersey Devils forward wasn’t wondering when he’d get another NHL shot after 66 games over two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. He was thankful just for the opportunity.

“[I was] lucky to play the game still. It’s not the NHL, but it’s still a lot of fun,” Gibbons, 29, told PHT on Wednesday. “Great guys down there. It’s tough hockey, good hockey.”

The Devils are one of the early-season surprises atop the Metropolitan Division with a 11-4-2 record. It’s not just that they’re having success, they’re actually fun to watch again. The speedy Gibbons is one reason why.

The leading goal scorer for the Devils isn’t Taylor Hall or Adam Henrique or Kyle Palmieri or even last June’s No. 1 overall draft pick Nico Hischier. Gibbons is the one currently holding that title with eight, which isn’t bad for someone whose last NHL goal before this season came on April 3, 2014.

What’s been the secret to his success? The answer is certainly not linemate Blake Coleman’s pickle juice, which Gibbons noted he stays “far away” from.

“I’ve just been trying to play the right way, really,” he said, “skate hard, work hard defensively. Obviously playing in the offensive zone as much as you can, try to get pucks behind their D and then once you’re in the O-zone try and make plays.”

Inconsistency plagued Gibbons earlier in his career, keeping him from earning a regular NHL job. His first professional coach is now his current coach — John Hynes. The two, along with Devils assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, were in Wilkes-Barre together for parts of three seasons from 2011-2014. Gibbons moved on to the Columbus, splitting the 2014-15 season between the Blue Jackets and their affiliate in Springfield. The next year he was in Hartford, trying to impress the New York Rangers for a callup that never happened. When no contract offers came his way in the summer of 2016, he earned a spot with the Devils’ AHL team in Albany after a tryout and planted the seeds for an NHL return.

A 16-goal, 38-points campaign impressed Hynes and Devils general manager Ray Shero (who was GM in Pittsburgh when Gibbons was there) enough that he earned an invite to main camp this fall. He fit into his role on the team and won himself a job.

“He’s really bought in to what his identity is as a player. He’s fast, he’s tenacious, he’s very smart. He’s a very good penalty killer. He understands how he needs to play,” Hynes said on Wednesday. “The biggest difference was when he was in Wilkes-Barre there was lots of pockets like that and inconsistencies, but the consistency level and professionalism he has now is allowing his talent and skill set to come out. It’s nice to see a guy like that come in and earn a job, and so far he hasn’t given it up. You want those things on your team because it helps drive internal competition.”

Gibbons and Coleman had a head start on chemistry development at the NHL level after a year of playing together in Albany. The transition was seamless and each knows what to expect from the other. The trio’s success is a small snapshot of a bigger picture. The Devils are one of the league’s top teams through nearly 20 games because of balanced scoring (14 different players have recorded a goal) and Cory Schneider’s play (.935 even strength save percentage) in net. It hasn’t always looked pretty, but they’ve been able to get the job done.

“[We’re] finding different ways to win games, whether it’s getting a lead and playing with a lead or coming from behind or goalies stealing us a game or power play getting a couple goals late,” Gibbons said. “It just seems, for the most part, that when we’ve needed a big play we’ve gotten it and we’ve gotten it from different guys, which is key when you don’t have to rely on one player and can just do it as a group.”

We’ll see if Gibbons can keep up the productivity and finally establish himself as a regular NHL player. When he was down in the AHL he never viewed his time there as one big tryout, hoping to impress a GM to get called up. He was only concerned with what he could control and that was helping his team.

That perspective can be credited to age and maturity.

“I’m at a different stage in my life,” Gibbons said. “Me and my fiancee have a little one-year-old. It’s nice to be able to share it with them. She was with me when I was in Columbus but he wasn’t around. It’s nice for them to be able to share this with me and just enjoying each day.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Paul Kariya and Scott Stevens, reunited (The Buzzer)

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Player of the Night: Miles Wood

The 22-year-old generated a hat trick and an assist (we need a term for this … maybe “Help Trick?”), giving the Devils a needed edge in a zany 7-5 win against the Blackhawks. You can read more about his strong night here.

Since Wood got the post treatment, it feels fair to spotlight some other players while we’re at it.

In that same game, Nico Hischier was excellent in his own right, generating a goal and two assists. Maybe the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft hasn’t been as bombastic as others at times – Clayton Keller continues to spellbind in Arizona, seemingly like a mirage in the desert – but Hischier has 14 points in 17 games.

If he had more goals (three so far), we’d have to nickname him “The Swiss Can’t-Miss.”

Two goalies deserve a quick mention, too. John Gibson continues to hold things together for the ridiculously injured Ducks. He lost, but Gibson made 35 saves; in a way, this highlight feels like the story of his night.

Braden Holtby was excellent, too, making 29 saves as the Capitals managed a 2-1 shootout win against the Oilers.

Highlight of the Night: Paul Kariya, Scott Stevens reunited.

How cool is this? OK, and how awkward is this?

Quite a moment. Maybe they’ll be best buds some day.

Or at least they might make amends?

If that bends the rules of “highlight” too much for you (Sheesh, you get into such semantic arguments that you must be … a person on the Internet), then Wood’s hat trick should suffice.

Factoid of the Night: Introduce yourself, 2017-18 Lightning:

That’s one of several interesting marks set by this red-hot team to begin the season.

Scores and more

Devils 7, Blackhawks 5

Capitals 2, Oilers 1 (SO)

Lightning 2, Ducks 1

Sharks 2, Kings 1

PHT Morning Skate: How does the Quick contract look six years later?

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Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been out with a concussion, skated at the Golden Knights’ practice facility on Wednesday. It sounds like he could be activated off injured reserve as soon as Friday. (sinbin.vegas)

–Isles owner John Ledecky went the extra mile to make a young fan have the time of his life at two home games. The fan got the VIP treatment simply because he went out to the city in his Islanders jersey. (silive.com)

–Puck Junk has a book review on “The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Story”. The company went from selling gum, to adding player cards in 1933-34. (puckjunk.com)

John Carlson was forced to take a faceoff during the overtime period of Monday’s game against Arizona. He didn’t win it (he looked awful doing it), but it didn’t come back to haunt his team. Now, the Capitals are thinking about making some changes to the way they approach 3-on-3 overtime. (NBC Sports Washington)

–Former Kings GM Dean Lombardi has been criticized for the contract he gave Jonathan Quick six years ago. But when you compare the deal to others around the league, you realize that it isn’t so bad. It’ll be interesting to see what it looks like as Quick gets older. (jewelsfromthecrown.com)

–Even though he isn’t lighting up the NHL, rookie Alex DeBrincat is focused on playing a complete game with the Blackhawks this season. He’s gotten some playing time with Jonathan Toews, which has also helped his development. “I think it’s good for me. I think learning when you don’t need to be breaking for, trying an offensive break and you’ve just got to play sound in the (defensive) zone,” DeBrincat said. “I think it’s definitely good for my development and learning where to be because he’s always talking and letting you know where to be.” (Sporting News)

–There’s no doubt that fighting is down in hockey and there are numbers to prove it. Less than 30 percent of games since 2012 have had a fight, which is remarkably low compared to previous years. (CBS Sports)

–Local merchants in Carolina have come out with a bunch of new products that they’ll be selling at Hurricanes home games this season. One of the items available for purchase are Hurricanes scented candles. Some of the proposed scents that were rejected were pretty unique. For example, there was unscented vanilla, Swedish fish, Cam Ward‘s glove, and many others. (section328.com)

Nico Hischier has been solid during his rookie season, but the Devils can do more to help him succeed, according to allaboutthejersey.com. For starters, they can take him off the top line (for now) and give him a more defined role on the man-advantage. (allaboutthejersey.com)

–November is “Hockey Fights Cancer” month, and there’s no denying that people in and around the Penguins organization have been affected by the disease. Mario Lemieux, Phil Kessel, Olli Maatta, former head coach Bob Johnson and Ashley Barrasso (Tom’s daughter) all showed remarkable courage in their respective fights against cancer. (thesportsdaily.com)

–The Predators’ bottom pairing of Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin played a big role in the team’s two wins in California. The fourth line of Cody McLeod, Frederick Gaudreau and Austin Watson also put together a solid performance during the trip. (ontheforecheck.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Devils aim to ‘get some respect back’ around NHL

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VANCOUVER — Travis Green made an astute observation about the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

“They’re not the Devils of old,” said the Canucks coach, hours before his team faced the Devils at Rogers Arena.

For the past few years, the Devils have been mired at or near the bottom of the NHL in scoring, and the results have been a team out of the playoff conversation in the Eastern Conference.

This season, however, the Devils are off to a good start in the East, leading the Metropolitan Division heading into Wednesday’s game in Vancouver. Not only have they been winning games, but New Jersey has been doing so with an offense that ranked third in the league with 3.80 goals-for per game, which is surely one of the bigger surprises to this point.

A transformation of the roster has helped.

It started with the acquisition of Taylor Hall in the summer of 2016 and continued with the good fortune of winning the draft lottery this spring, resulting in the first overall selection of Nico Hischier a few weeks later. They added Marcus Johansson, and Jesper Bratt — yes, 19 year old Jesper Bratt, a sixth round pick from 2016 — has enjoyed quite the beginning to his NHL career with 10 points in his first 10 games.

College free agent signing and defenseman Will Butcher was averaging just over a point per game through 10 appearances this season, with seven of his 11 assists coming from the power play.

The addition of youth to the lineup has paid off nicely. Early on against the Canucks, the Devils were aggressive, quick and confident with the puck before eventually holding on for a 2-0 victory. Cory Schneider was sensational in net making 37 saves for the shutout. The bad news, though, was that Johansson took a nasty fall into the end boards early in the first period, left the game and didn’t return due to an upper-body injury.

What Green’s comments may reflect is a change in the perception around the league for how the Devils play now and the challenge they are starting to pose.

“I don’t know if we’re trying to change the perception around the league,” said Devils coach John Hynes.

“I know we’re trying to play a certain way and we want to be an aggressive team. We want to be a team that can play with lots of pace. And I feel with the group of players we have, we’ve been able to do that. We feel within our team we have guys that are quick, they’re fast, they’re tenacious on the puck, they’re very competitive and those are things we want to have.

“And we’re scoring as a result of playing with those attributes.”

Hischier, 18, has made a seamless transition from the top pick into the NHL as a rookie. Bratt, on the other hand, was taken 162nd overall in 2016. He won’t turn 20 years old until July 30, 2018.

Fascinating tidbit about his ascension: There are still 16 players taken during the first round of that 2016 draft that still haven’t played their first NHL game, and yet Bratt is not only on the Devils roster but he’s among the team leaders in points.

Here’s a sample of his work:

“He’s got a high, high hockey intelligence,” said Hynes of Bratt. “He can think his way through the game.”

Then Hynes went through a more detailed checklist.

— Tenacious? Check.

— Fast? Check.

— Consistent? Check.

“The focus coming in for us was trying to get a team that was going to be hard to play against and get some respect back for ourselves, our team and organization,” said Hynes.

“We’re just proud of the fact that some of the younger guys on our team have come in and been very consistent. They’ve been able to play to the identity we want to play with, and good results have followed that process.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.