Saying the Devils have gotten production out of their rookies is certainly an understatement. Jesper Bratt, Will Butcher, and Nico Hischier have all been important contributors, and key proponents to the Devils red-hot start.
The question is out of the three of these young studs, who has played the best thus far?
Jesper Bratt has already returned the Devils investment. The former sixth-round pick has not only been the Devils best rookie but maybe their second-best winger so far. Coming into this year, very little was expected from Bratt. He spent his entire career in Sweden, but was poised to make the transition to North America, after being drafted by the London Knights in the OHL. It was going to be a good chance for scouts to see how he would adapt to the North American game. Luckily for the Devils, they never got this chance. Bratt used his combination of speed and tenacity to surprisingly make the opening night roster. Bratt became a key member of the team’s power play and penalty kill. He also began piling up points (currently has 15). Bratt has been able to elevate not only his game, but his line mates as well. Hopefully he can keep this pace up and become a consistent contributor to the Devils top six for years to come.
Nico Hischier has lived up to the pre-draft hype. He’s seemingly filled the void Travis Zajac left while sidelined, and took over first line center duties. Hynes’ decision to utilize Hischier in that role shows how much faith he has in the 18-year old. Hischier has shown the hockey IQ that was highly touted out of juniors, along with the pure skill that filled highlight reels last season. Hischier is among the league leaders in rookie scoring (tied with fellow Devil Will Butcher with five goals and 18 points), while also fulfilling his defensive responsibilities as a center.
If this list was made after the first 10 games Will Butcher might have topped the list. He came out firing, leading the Devils in points in the early going. He hit a skid but has regained his point scoring touch over the past week, and is currently top-five in rookie scoring across the league with two goals and 18 points. Butcher has been exceptional but is not as heavily leaned on as the previous two rookies at five-on-five. His defensive deficiencies have shown up more often as he continues to garner more ice time but that was to be expected from a guy making the jump from the NCAA to pro hockey.
Having said that, Butcher has been great. He’s been exactly what the Devils hoped for when they signed him. He’s a defenseman who knows how to push the offense with a mixture of great decision making and puck skills. Butcher has done an amazing job running the power play, and (at times) is one of the few Devils defenseman fans can count on to successfully start a rush.
It wouldn’t make a sense to grade these guys individually, because they all deserve an A. The Devils wouldn’t be where they are without contributions from these three rookies. Each has successfully outplayed their original perceived value. Bratt was a sixth-round pick, Butcher was an unsigned college free agent, and Hischier was supposed to be a (comparatively) weak first overall pick. They have all proved their doubters wrong. Hopefully they all can continue this success into many successful years in Newark, but only time will tell.