The New Jersey Devils are struggling to keep pace with other teams in the Eastern Conference this year. More troubling perhaps is the fact that there have been a number of games where they’ve either led and blown the lead, or outright been decimated by their opposition. While some (a lot?) of that can fall on coaching, some of it also has to fall to the fact that the Devils simply don’t have enough players who can take control of a game yet to be considered a true Stanley Cup contender. These players don’t exactly grow on trees either; you have to be lucky, or good enough to draft and sign enough of these players at one time.
The Devils realistically have one, maybe two players who can dominate and take over the pace of the game for sections at a time. Taylor Hall is absolutely an impact player by this definition, as he single-handedly carries the Devils for periods at a time. Jersey’s Team has certainly missed Hall during this stretch that he has been absent; he plays hard, records points and makes match-ups more difficult for other teams.
I would argue that Nico Hischier is evolving into an impact player as well. In only his second full season in the NHL, Nico has 29 points in 38 games played, good for a pace of 63 points over a full 82 games. He’s also quickly becoming an all situations player, as he’s obviously used at even strength and on the PP, but Coach John Hynes has also been turning to Nico on the PK either during extended kills or when one of his usual top four choices (Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, Pavel Zacha and Brian Boyle) are unavailable. While he’s not Hall-esque in controlling games, he’s shown enough flashes of brilliance to believe he could travel that path.
The Devils may have an impact defender in the pipeline in Ty Smith; even with his success in juniors, it is still too early to say whether he will be impactful, serviceable, or even possibly underwhelming at the NHL level. Again, based off of his play to this point in time and his draft pedigree, he should at least be serviceable, but he is currently an unknown quantity, as is the problem with most draft choices.