New Jersey Devils head coach John Hynes should have the smarts to develop young talent after losing example-setting top forward Travis Zajac to injury.
The two players who would have benefited the most from him is this year’s first overall pick Nico Hischier, 18, and Taylor Hall, 25, who played his first season with New Jersey last year and tied as the team’s points leader. Zajac, who placed right under Hall on that leader board, has a beacon of knowledge. With that, he could have helped mold these young players to reach their full potential.
But that won’t happen, at least not for the season’s first half or so.
The Devils announced Thursday that Zajac will miss an estimated 4-6 months as he recovers from pectoral surgery. This leaves head coach John Hynes with a sudden void of on-ice leadership and a consistently valuable player. At 32, the 2006 first-round draft pick has proven himself as a worthy role model. He can also keep up with the current starts, in 2016-17 racking up 20 goals and 33 assists playing 80 out of 82 games, earning 381 career points.
Hynes has this void at no fault of his own, but he cannot use that as an excuse for complacency.
Another season like last year, which saw New Jersey finish at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division at 28-40-14, will be his responsibility. He starts the year with luck that few coaches have when trying to bounce back from such a disastrous season. Hischier last year played for Swiss junior teams as well as the Canadian minor league’s Halifax Mooseheads. There, he earned 86 points to be the 10th points leader in the QMJHL during his only season with the league.
But Hynes should recognize that they’re both still green, especially Hischier. While impressive for his inexperience, went into the draft most notable for his time in the minors and international juniors. Hall has spent a while in the league for his age, and with proper training, he can provide to the Devils the top-tier player that the Oilers hoped to use when they drafted him first overall in 2010.
Hynes can’t expect these two to improve on their own, especially with Zajac gone. The responsibility rests on the head coach now more than ever to groom them as threats the entire league will take notice of.
If he figures this out correctly, Hynes can invest in a dynamic duo that can learn the game and each other while working together for perhaps the next 10-15 years. As Hall plays left wing and Hischier plays center, Hynes should consider it attractive to put them on the same line. If they prove themselves as worthy contenders, they can work as a powerhouse for several seasons.
New Jersey’s coach should be competent enough to do this. Before starting his so-far uneventful NHL career in 2015, Hynes’ previous live suggested he can mold young guns. Head coach of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins for five seasons, he earned the title of head coach of the year in 2013. He also served as head coach from 2003-2009 for USA international developmental team. There, he won gold in 2006 for the IIHF U18 Men’s World Championship. Given this, he should have a high enough developmental I.Q. to make these two upstarts thrive.
Much of the responsibility of building on their talents rests on the pair themselves. Too often, young prospects fall victim of high expectations in media mixed with a high draft pick. This can make for a lethal combination of pride, making players believe they don’t need to improve. A notable recent example of this is Tim Tebow. His promising NFL career after a stellar stint in college football exploded spectacularly in public.
This is primarily a potential problem for Hischier. However, Hall is also a young first overall draft pick and should be wary of it, too.
Hischier has said to New Jersey Advance Media that he has worked to learn as much as he can from team veterans in training camp. Hopefully, that is a sign that he will have continuing humbleness. Hall and Hischier would fall quickly by thinking they’re too skilled to sponge off coaches and veterans. And the easiest way for Hynes to fail would be falling complacent in their training.