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MSG Rookie Week; Nico & The 8 Other New Jersey Devils Who Went Right from Draft to NHL

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MSG will be airing rookie-centric programming next week, including replays of four Devils games where Martin Brodeur, Scott Gomez, Adam Henrique, and Nico Hischier made an important impact. This post also highlights how Nico is part of a select group of Devils who went from the NHL Draft right to the NHL.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils
A feature for Nico? You bet. MSG is giving you one.
Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

The Rasmus Kupari profile is the final planned prospect profile for this site for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The next week starts the busiest two-ish weeks of the offseason: the 2018 NHL Awards show followed by the 2018 NHL Entry Draft followed by the period for pending free agents to talk with teams to Free Agency Frenzy itself on July 1. There is a lot to cover for the New Jersey Devils fan, which you likely are if you’re reading this, and the fans who have chosen poorly and follow some other team in the NHL.

Thanks to MSG, there will be even more New Jersey Devils content coming up. Well, rather it’s a look back. The network is declaring next week to be Rookie Week. As the NHL and NBA drafts are in the very near future, programming has been set up to highlight rookies who have made an impact for the local teams. There will be replays of four games where a New Jersey Devil rookie really stood out in addition to draft preview shows and a feature on last year’s star of the 2017 NHL Draft: Nico Hischier. Here are the games and air-times (all times are Eastern):

It is arguable that there are some more notable rookies that could have been included (e.g. Scott Niedermayer), but these are great choices. Brodeur went on to be arguably the franchise’s greatest player; Gomez was fantastic in his time in New Jersey; and Henrique became a popular player. Hischier’s rookie season by all measures was a success and his future is very bright. MSG would agree as they will be airing a feature on the Swiss center on Wednesday, June 20 at 10:30 AM and 8:30 PM. Not sure too many Devils fans will catch the 8:30 PM viewing. Maybe set a DVR for it - or hope Boyle and Hall are given trophies after 9.

Of course, something about this group jumped out at me. Hischier is the only one who went right into the NHL after being drafted. It is fairly common for most prospects to have some kind of devlopment and seasoning before getting to play in the best league in the world. An opportunity is also needed. Brodeur needed to take over from Chris Terreri. Gomez impressed out of the 1999 camp, if I recall correctly. An injury to Travis Zajac opened the door for Henrique to play with Parise and Kovalchuk and he took that opportunity and ran with it. All of them and other rookies have done the same thing. While an injury to Zajac made it easier for Hischier to get minutes with Taylor Hall, there was not really any doubt that Hischier would be in New Jersey in 2017-18. He was the first overall pick and, these days, that player jumps into the NHL right away. It still is not the norm for most draft prospects.

This made me wonder who else in New Jersey Devils history went from being drafted in the offseason and suited up for the franchise in the following season for more than just a handful of games. Thanks to the Hockey-Reference Player Index tool, I found out that Hischier is the ninth player in Devils history to do that. Here’s a list of them and where they were drafted:

  • Wilf Paiement, RW - First Round, 2nd Overall in 1974
  • Paul Gagne, LW - First Round, 19th Overall in 1980
  • Joe Cirella, D - First Round, 5th Overall in 1981
  • Kirk Muller, LW - First Round, 2nd Overall in 1984
  • Craig Wolanin, D - First Round, 3rd Overall in 1985
  • Brendan Shanahan, RW - First Round, 2nd Overall in 1987
  • Petr Sykora, LW - First Round, 18th Overall in 1995
  • Adam Larsson, D - First Round, 4th Overall in 2012
  • Nico Hischier, C - First Round, 1st Overall in 2017

Notice the difference in years. When Kansas City / Colorado / New Jersey was bad and had plenty of high first round picks, then it happened a bit more often. Some of these players went on to have great careers, others were more or less serviceable. None of them are really “busts.” Even so, it was not a guarantee it would occur. Prior to Hischier, it happened exactly twice since the Devils rose up in the early to mid 1990s. While Petr Sykora may be the rare exception, I would not expect a mid-first round pick to make the New Jersey squad in October of this year. It is not impossible - but it is very unlikely. I still hope that whoever is taken eventually does make the roster and make an impact to get highlighted like Nico will be next week.

As much MSG tends to focus on Our Hated Rivals and the Knicks over anyone else (the parent company does own both teams so it is not a huge surprise), I think it is worth point out when the network tries to do something different and includes the Devils. I cannot complain about the Devils and then ignore something like this. I hope their Rookie Week is a success so they can keep it going for future years and add even more from the Devils’ past. I’m certain they have some tape on Sykora from 1995-96 hanging with Steve Thomas and Dave Andreychuk. Ditto for Niedermayer from 1992-93, his first full season of NHL hockey and Patrik Elias from 1997-98. While undrafted, some pieces of John Madden and Brian Rafalski putting in that work would do nicely. If their archive goes back far, some clips of Shanahan, Muller, Pat Verbeek, and John MacLean would be fun. I’m sure more contemporary highlights would be good too. From Brian Gionta playing over his size to Zach Parise’s first season to Larsson showing that he was more than just being worth Taylor Hall to Peter Chiarelli. There is a lot the network can do with New Jersey rookies. I hope it becomes an annual occurrence so they can have the opportunity. One day, I hope next Friday’s selection by New Jersey in the first round will be featured.