As far as returns go, it’s hard to remember one with more glamour than Nico Hischier’s. Not only did the 22-year-old, Swiss-born, first overall pick by the Devils in 2017–the team’s first-ever top selection since arriving to the state–make a surprise return to the lineup after missing time due to rehabbing an offseason injury, he was also announced as the club’s captain seemingly right before the pre-game warmup.
It was Lou Lamoriello-level of surprising for a team that has mainstay Travis Zajac and six-year man and native son, Kyle Palmieri on the roster. But Hischier, who has made his mark as a quieter, unassuming force who leads by example, has taken the team on his back at times and looks poised to continue that moving forward.
“Obviously a great honor,” Hischier said of the captaincy. “It’s a privilege to representing the New Jersey Devils organization as a captain and leading a team. We got some really good leaders in the locker room, too and I’m sure they’re going to help me out as well. I just try my best every game to help that team having success.”
Palmieri, who has worn a letter with the club since 2017-18, has led the team in scoring four of five seasons and has become a fan favorite by virtue of play and geography, was spoken to along with Zajac on the eve of the announcement of New Jersey’s 12th captain in franchise history. Devils GM and VP of Hockey Operations, Tom Fitzgerald said that was out of respect for where the two players and at times de-facto leaders are in their careers. But in true hockey spirit, there was an echoing of support from a winger that’s spent ample time around No. 13.
“He’s such a genuine, hard working kid,” Palmieri said. “Getting to know him over these last three–three and a half years–you knew he was ready for it. He’s going to learn along the way, but we’re all here as his teammates to support him. Like I said I was so happy for him.
“I found out about it last night. I know he didn’t find out until this morning. It was genuine excitement. He’s a guy that leads by example, has all the respect in the world from his teammates and the people that surround him. I’m looking forward to have him as our captain.”
Hischier becomes the third-ever Swiss-born captain in league history behind only Mark Streit (New York Islanders, 2011-2013) and Roman Josi (Nashville, 2017-present). He also becomes the first forward since Zach Parise to don the ‘C.’ That era of the team had come off of a tough season in which then-captain Jamie Langenbrunner was traded to Dallas. The team went without one for the balance of the 2010-11 year. Ditto Andy Greene, who re-upped with the Islanders this offseason after the test drive via trade worked out nicely. Greene was among the ex-NJ captains that left video messages prior to the his ascension as the league’s youngest captain.
“Andy Greene was one of them,” he said of the video presented to him after finding out the news prior to puck drop in Newark versus the Sabres. “It was pretty neat obviously. I got to know him and could learn from him a lot. If you look at him those three years I played with him, it was great for me.
“He’s just an all-around great leader. If you look what he does every day off the ice, not just on the ice–it’s inspiring. I loved going out there with him and trying to win hockey games. It’s exactly what I’m trying to do with the other guys.”
Lindy Ruff, a veteran behind the bench has had captains of teams that have helped lead their team in long playoff runs including multiple conference finals and a Stanley Cup run in Hischier’s birth year.
“Nico has to be Nico,” Ruff said. “He plays his game, he leads his way. His way I believe is by how hard he plays, the way he acts, the way he trains. It’s just the way he carries himself around his teammates.”
Fitzgerald, an 18-year player-turned GM with time spent as the Florida Panthers captain, said the announcement comes with excitement.
“It’s such a big deal to a franchise,” Fitzgerald said. “Putting that letter on their sweater, it’s an incredible–I don’t want to say accomplishment, but badge of honor. You kind of reminisce of your own time and what this would mean for this person. A lot of emotions, but more importantly the excitement and enthusiasm (Hischier) will bring to the organization.”
Lost in Saturday afternoon’s excitement though was a sloppy contest that saw loose legs and three goals surrendered in the opening 40 despite Mackenzie Blackwood continuing to be a stingy force in the crease. Palmieri added a third period goal and his third in two games while P.K. Subban’s power play tally injected some third period life before falling in regulation.
Hischier and company get right back at it in Washington on Sunday afternoon. A chance to continue its strong play away from home as players continue to adjust to game speed and competition from the two-week pause earlier this month. In time, that should give Jersey’s Swiss kid more chances to lead by example.