The season is a little over a week old now and perhaps the biggest surprise thus far has been the New Jersey Devils. The fact that they’re 3-0-0 is part of it, but how they got there is even more eye opening.
The Devils, which finished 28th in the NHL in goals last season, has already found the back of the net 16 times in three games. A good amount of that offense has come from rookies, but Nico Hischier hasn’t been the one who stepped up. Hischier was taken with the first overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and was seen as a potential contender for this seasons Calder Trophy, but thus far he has no goals and one assist while averaging a modest 14:40 minutes per game.
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Hischier might heat up as the campaign goes on – it’s still early after all – but so far, the rookies making an impact in New Jersey have been Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher. They’ve been quite a pleasant surprise thus far.
Bratt has hit the ground running with three goals and six points in three games to lead all rookies in scoring. He’s already looking like an amazing steal for the Devils given that he fell to the 162nd pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The 19-year-old came over Sweden where he had six goals and 22 points in 46 contests with AIK last season. He’s a big risk from a fantasy perspective as he could still fizzle out, but if he’s still available as a free agent in your league, it’s worth gambling on him.
Butcher is a 22-year-old rookie defenseman with five assists in three contests. Unlike Bratt, it would be a stretch to say he came out of nowhere. After all, he won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player in 2016-17 after scoring seven goals and 37 points in 43 games with the University of Denver. His hot start is also salt in the wound for the Colorado Avalanche as they drafted him, but failed to sign him before their exclusive period ended and he was permitted to test the free agent market. At the same time, luring Butcher over to their side during the summer was a huge win for the Devils.
I still have my doubts about New Jersey’s ability to compete for a playoff spot this season, but this is a team that’s starting to look very encouraging. Keep in mind that on top of rookies Bratt, Butcher, and Hischier, they also have some promising sophomores in Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha. Even if they end up falling well short of the playoffs this season, the Devils could be very competitive in 2018-19.
Speaking of emerging talent, Vancouver’s Brock Boeser is expected to make his NHL debut Thursday night. He was a healthy scratch in the Canucks’ first two games, but at least now that he’s entering the lineup it looks like he’ll get a fair shot as he’s projected to play alongside Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi.
Boeser had 16 goals and 34 points in 32 games with the University of North Dakota last season and then joined the Canucks to finish the campaign with four goals and five points in nine NHL games. After that audition, there was a lot of excitement about the 20-year-old forward going into this season, especially given that Vancouver fans weren’t expecting many reasons to cheer in the near-term. That made the decision to scratch Boeser in back-to-back games fairly unpopular, but it sounds like fatigue was a consideration after the preseason.
Keep in mind that Boeser is making the transition from the NCAA to the NHL, which means going from a relatively light schedule to an intensive one. Vancouver might strategically scratch him at various times throughout the season in the interest of preventing him from hitting a wall as the season progresses. That would hinder his fantasy value for this season, but it might be in his best interests. Incidentally, that endurance factor when transitioning from the NCAA to NHL is something you should also keep in the back of your mind when looking at Butcher.
Shifting from some of the youngest players in the league to its oldest member, Jaromir Jagr made his Calgary Flames debut on Wednesday. It wasn’t a particularly memorable game as he had a minus-one rating in 13:38 minutes of ice time, but that’s not too surprising given that the 45-year-old has been trying to play catch-up after missing training camp and the preseason. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was back into the swing of things in another game or two.
It’s also worth noting that Wednesday’s game was the 1,712th of his career. He sits in fourth place on the all-time list in terms of games played, just 19 behind the third place Ron Francis. Beyond that, Mark Messier played in 1,756 games and Gordie Howe played in 1,767. So it’s plausible that Jagr will break Howe’s record if he can stay healthy this season. Howe’s record is an incredible achievement that’s stood the test of time, but it would be appropriate if Jagr was the one to break it. After all, like Howe, Jagr’s longevity has been stunning and like Howe, Jagr took a prolonged break from the NHL. Howe spent six years in the WHA before returning to the NHL for one final season in 1979-80 when he was in his early 50s. Following the 2007-08 campaign, Jagr left to spend three years in the KHL before returning at the age of 39 and sticking in the NHL since. Jagr has also gone through several NHL work stoppages as he spent part of the 1994-95 campaign in the Czech league, the full 2004-05 campaign between the Czech league and Russian league, and part of the 2012-13 campaign in the Czech league.