To coincide with the NHL and NBA drafts taking place in the coming days, MSG Networks announced it will be launching its first ever “Rookie Week.” The programming event starts Monday, and will showcase the best rookies to ever play in the Tri-State Area’s hockey and basketball teams. Features like interviews with members of the upcoming rookie class can be seen on MSG Networks, MSGNetworks.com, MSG Networks’ social media channels, and on SLAM’s website (along with their social media outlets) starting Wednesday June 20.
“Rookie Week” will also show some of the best and most memorable performances in the inaugural seasons of local NHL legends like Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers, Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, and more recent standouts like New Jersey’s Nico Hischier. MSG Networks will show iconic games from rookie seasons of many current and former New Jersey Devils, like Martin Brodeur’s first NHL shutout versus the Anaheim Ducks in 1993, Scott Gomez’s first NHL goal versus the Islanders in 1999, Adam Henrique’s first two playoff goals versus the Florida Panthers in 2012, and Nico Hischier’s first NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators last season.
“At MSG Networks, we are constantly looking for ways to deliver fresh and engaging content that will appeal to our viewers,” says MSG Networks Senior Vice President of Marketing and Content Strategy Kevin Marotta. “And with the increased attention around both the NBA and NHL Drafts, ‘Rookie Week’ will provide us with the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the moment and excitement around each,” Marotta said.
In addition to revisiting memorable games from rookie campaigns of local NHL and NBA icons, “Rookie Week” programming will also air several new shows that strongly focus on different aspects of the upcoming drafts. MSG Networks host Arda Ocal and draft analyst Steve Journianos will be featured on episodes of “People Talking Hockey”, which will preview draft-eligible rookies of the coming draft, along with past episodes of the show “Beginnings”, which tells the stories of the area’s team players, and their journeys to becoming professional athletes.
You should also expect increased content and promotions of MSG Networks’ digital and social channels, in addition to MSG GO, MSG Networks’ live streaming and video on demand platform for smartphones, tablets, and computers.
Speaking of Rookies…
“Rookie Week” is a strong reminder of how every draft represents an opportunity for teams to shape their futures, and become the starting point for young players to begin their professional playing careers. While many players drafted ultimately don’t pan out, it doesn’t overshadow how many journeys a team making that faithful draft selection have led to remarkable NHL careers. That’s certainly been the case over the years in New Jersey, where homegrown player development played a pivotal role in the organization’s three Stanley Cup championships.
To help commemorate MSG Networks’ “Rookie Week”, we’re going to take a look at the five best rookie seasons players have had in Devils uniforms since 2004— the year New Jersey started their current partnership with MSG Networks. Granted this coincides with a stretch of time where former general manager Lou Lamoriello and Director of Scouting David Conte arguably began to lose their keen eye for quality talent, there were still some diamonds in the rough who had standout seasons over the past 14 years (some still on the team today) worthy of acknowledgement.
5. Jesper Bratt
2017-2018 GP- 74 G- 13 A- 22
It might not seem like it at first glance, but Jesper Bratt’s rookie season was instrumental to the Devils getting their first playoff berth in six years. Granted his stats aren’t too particularly inspiring, Bratt played some of his best hockey early on this past season, scoring in many winning contests, and the resulting accumulated points proved invaluable to the Devils down the stretch.
Think of Bratt’s contributions as that occasional secondary scoring recent Devils teams have sorely lacked— especially those who lost most of their games by one goal. Bratt’s contributions are always worth remembering whenever you hear anyone say the games early in the season are unimportant.
4. Travis Zajac
2006-2007 GP- 80 G- 17 A- 25
After Zach Parise’s uninspiring rookie season, Travis Zajac was next in the spotlight. Between being a center (compared to a wing) and posting better numbers in his rookie year on an offensively worse team than the one Parise played on in his rookie campaign, Zajac’s inaugural NHL season was ultimately a better success.
While Parise bounced around in the Devils lineup, Zajac had a largely stable role as the team’s No. 2 center. In addition, Zajac also scored six power play goals on a team that collectively tallied 65 the whole season (seventh-fewest in the league).
3. Adam Henrique
2011-2012 GP- 74 G- 16 A- 35
Adam Henrique’s remarkable inaugural NHL season made him the first Devils rookie to secure a regular lineup spot and stick with the team for more than one season since Travis Zajac. His tenacious play, clutch goal-scoring, and chemistry centering Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk was a welcomed change to the organization— especially after seeing names like Mattias Tedenby, Niclas Bergfors, Petr Vrana, Matt Halischuk, Vladimir Zharkov, and Alexander Vasyuonov not pan out. Henrique is the only player listed in this article that earned a Calder Cup nomination, and finished with the highest point totals for a Devils rookie since Scott Gomez in 1999-2000.
2. Nico Hischier
2017-2018 GP- 82 G- 20 A- 32
Coming off his first NHL season, Nico Hischier had a lot of expectations as a first overall draft pick. After a slow start, Hischier found chemistry with Taylor Hall, and arguably contributed significantly to his teammate’s career season. The Devils obviously wouldn’t have achieved their improbable postseason berth without Nico’s contributions, who settled in nicely as the team’s No. 1 center as the season progressed.
It’s all the more admirable that Hischier entered the NHL as an 18-year old, and was the only player on the Devils to appear in all 82 games this season. Hischier also claimed the title as Devils rookie to tally the most points in a season since Scott Gomez’ 1999-2000 campaign (granted he edged out Henrique by one point).
1. Will Butcher
2017-2018 GP- 81 G- 5 A- 39
One of the main reasons Will Butcher gets the top spot is because he’s a defenseman. Although blue liners like Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, and Damon Severson have stuck with the team beyond their rookie years, no Devils defenseman has had the kind of impact Butcher had in their inaugural NHL season since Brian Rafalski in 1999-2000.
Like the contributions of his counterparts Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, the Devils don’t even make the playoffs without Will Butcher on their roster. Despite being selectively used by the coaching staff, Butcher thrived quarterbacking the power play, was the first Devils defenseman to tally at least 39 assists, and just the second to hit 40 points since Brian Rafalski in 2006-2007.
Make sure to tune in this week on MSG Networks for their first ever “Rookie Week” as we count down to the NHL draft.