NHL on NBC: New Devils captain Hischier among team’s rising young players

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NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Sunday matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Something looked a little different about Nico Hischier and the Devils during their 3-2 loss to the Sabres on Saturday. From Sunday’s Devils – Capitals game and onward, there’s a strong chance that it will like more and more a natural fit.

At just 22 years old, Nico Hischier became captain of the Devils, becoming the youngest active player to don the “C” for any NHL team this season.

Hischier becomes Devils captain at age 22

Kyle Palmieri and other Devils players sure seemed to approve the decision to name Hischier their latest captain.

“So happy for him,” Palmieri said. “He’s a such a genuine, hard-working kid. Getting to know him these last three years, you knew he was ready for it. He’s going to learn along the way, but we’re all here as teammates and to support him, and I was so happy for him. I found out last night and he didn’t find out until this morning. But it was genuine excitement. He’s a guy that leads by example and has all the respect in the world from his teammates and the people that surround him.”

Along with Predators captain Roman Josi, Hischier is one of two Swiss-born NHL players who serve as team captains.

Consider this the latest example of the Devils passing the torch from the remaining remnants of the Lou Lamoriello era to new (fresh) faces of their franchise. Hischier, 22, takes over from former captain Andy Greene. Greene, now 38, was traded from the Devils to the Islanders as New Jersey’s 37-year-old captain.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 2 P.M. ET]

As Palmieri mentioned, Hischier is learning along the way. In that case, the conversation was leadership, but it also applies to his all-around game. Hischier ideally climbing from star to superstar could be crucial in the Devils making gains in their rebuild.

As is, Hischier is already a remarkably polished player. Consider that he’s a positive contributor on both ends of the ice, as seen by Hockey Viz’s graphs:

Nico Hischier Viz Devils young players NHL on NBC
via Hockey Viz

That’s all very promising. Still, the Devils are going to want more. Hischier’s reached exactly 20 goals once, during his rookie year in 2017-18, when he also set a career-high with 52 points. He’s been a solid scorer, yet some of his strengths revolve around observing his all-around game.

During his first season carrying a $7.25 million cap hit, and that “C” on his sweater, people are going to want more from Hischier. He’s already handled the pressure of being the top pick of a draft (2017), but expectations should only escalate going forward.

Other young Devils show promise

Luckily, Hischier’s not alone. Not even as a recent No. 1 overall pick.

To an extent, some of the pressure eased off of Hischier when Jack Hughes ended up being an even-more-hyped top pick of the 2019 NHL Draft. (And some of Hughes’ rookie year struggles might have kept some eyes off of Hischier, too.)

No doubt, the Devils must be delighted to see Jack Hughes looking more like, well, a top overall pick so far during his sophomore season. Consider, for instance, how ugly Hughes’ underlying stats were for 2019-20:

Devils young players Hischier NHL on NBC
via Evolving Hockey

Then compare them to more promising RAPM charts from Evolving Wild so far for 2020-21:

Hughes RAPM 2020-21 young Devils NHL on NBCSN
Greedy folks might want that power play work to sustain, but overall? Promising. via Evolving Hockey

Now, sure, there’s again that urge to blurt out the word “More!”

[2020-21 NHL on NBC TV SCHEDULE]

But that’s the sort of trajectory you hope to see from a young player. At 19, Hughes is becoming more comfortable with the speed of opponents, and how to make his own elite skating work in his favor.

Even with his offense drying up a bit lately (zero goals, three assists in his past seven games), Hughes has 10 points in 12 games this season. That’s the most of any Devils player so far in 2020-21.

Now, to really get cooking with a rebuild, you need to find talent beyond the most abundantly obvious choices.

While defenseman Ty Smith isn’t some Pavel Datsyuk-style deep draft steal, you’re not always getting a sure thing even at 17th overall (Smith’s draft position in 2018). It’s extremely early in 20-year-old Ty Smith’s career, but through 12 games, he’s looking promising. So far, Smith is tied for second in team scoring with eight points.

His shooting percentage won’t remain at 10.5 percent over the long haul, but if Smith can round out into being a quality top-four defenseman for the Devils, that could be big.

And again, it’s a rising young player for the Devils.

It’s also important for the Devils to develop properly. As their next coach, the Devils turned to experience instead of youth. Early on, there are some positive signs that Lindy Ruff is pushing some of the right buttons.

With Mackenzie Blackwood quietly building a case as one of the most promising young NHL goalies at 24, there’s quite a bit for the Devils to be happy about.

Granted, the most promising feelings are still about the future more than the present. But we’re seeing some signs of improvement today, along with dreams of tomorrow.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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    NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

    “It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

    Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

    “It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

    The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

    Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

    John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

    “Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

    Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

    “That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

    Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

    Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

    The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

    “You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

    Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

    NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: At Vancouver.

    Devils: At the New York Rangers.

    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.