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Rookie watch: Bratt emerging as big surprise for Devils

Sixth-round pick in 2016 NHL Draft earning respect, trust from coaching staff

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Jesper Bratt understands what it takes to remain a fixture in the New Jersey Devils lineup as a 5-foot-10, 175-pound forward.

"I'm a pretty skilled guy; I like to be creative with my speed and my hands," Bratt said. "But competing is a big part of my game. I try to compete to make it hard for the guys on the other team to play against."

It's that mentality that caught the attention of Devils coach John Hynes, who has always rewarded players with a willingness to work hard and be vigilant on the puck.

"If there's been one surprise for us this year it's been [Bratt]," Hynes said. "Coming in a little bit of an unknown, the consistency level he's been able to play at has been very good. His speed, hockey sense and compete level have been high."

Bratt's success story through five games is fueled by the fact he was a sixth-round pick (No. 162) in the 2016 NHL Draft. He's second among NHL rookies with six points (three goals, three assists) and third among Devils forwards in ice time (16:47).

Bratt, 19, was ranked No. 17 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of European skaters for the 2016 draft. He was projected as a future second-line forward by Goran Stubb, the NHL director of European Scouting.

Video: NJD@BUF: Bratt finishes Henrique's feed on two-on-one

"We liked his skating speed, first-step quickness and attitude," Stubb said. "He really caught our eyes at the 2015 Under-18 5-Nations Tournament. He was outstanding in that tournament."

Bratt had four points (two goals, two assists) in four games for Sweden at the 5-Nations tournament.

"He was well covered by all our scouting group because he played for a lot of Under-18 national teams, so he wasn't a big secret," Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron said. "I think he probably didn't go high in the draft because of his size. But that continues to change for the better for the smaller guys."

Bratt had 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 46 games while playing big minutes for AIK in Allsvenskan, Sweden's second division last season. Castron said Bratt was a player who always made things happen when he was on the ice.

"Whether or not he scored in a game was immaterial because he still caught your eye and impacted the game with his speed and skill," Castron said. "He was on the puck all the time; much like he's on the puck now playing for the Devils."

Bratt has also earned the respect of the Devils coaching staff to where they trust him on the power play and penalty kill. He has one power-play goal and two shorthanded points (one goal, one assist).

"I think it's come out now that he's a very smart player and the coaches trust him in certain situations, but he was drafted a smaller, skilled, offensive player," Castron said. "The speed in today's game just helps guys like [Bratt]."

Video: COL@NJD: Bratt nets first goal, parents tear up

 

Rookies on the rise

Sonny Milano, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets (2014 Draft, No. 16): Milano (6-foot, 195 pounds), 21, became the first player in Blue Jackets history to score four goals in the first three games of a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He leads NHL rookies with four goals in five games.

"During preseason, I worked on my defensive play, stopping and starting and making smart plays instead of always trying to make the fancy play or the play that's going to score a goal," Milano told The Columbus Dispatch.

Martin Frk, RW, Detroit Red Wings (2012 Draft, No. 49): Frk (6-1, 205) considered returning to Europe before he signed a one-year contract as a restricted free agent on July 18. He has four points (three goals, one assist) and 10 shots on goal in a top-6 role through five games.

If Frk, 24, intends to remain a top-6 forward, he needs to consistently showcase his tremendous shot.

"If he's open you've got to give it to him, but if teams realize that shot he's got, it's going to open up so much more room in the slot or down low," Red Wings center Frans Nielsen told mlive.com.

Will Butcher, D, Devils (2013 Draft, No. 123, Colorado Avalanche): He leads NHL rookies in scoring after five games with eight points, all assists. Butcher (5-10, 190), 22, thinks the game like a savvy veteran, making his stature a moot point at this stage. He became a free agent after not signing with the Avalanche, and agreed to terms on a two-year, entry-level contract with the Devils (average annual value $925,000) on Aug. 27.

"He's got great hockey sense, poise and high hockey IQ," Hynes said. "But this guy is also a high character person. He loves the game, works at the game. He's the type of player we wanted because hockey is a huge passion for him."

Video: NJD@WSH: Butcher launches a nice top-shelf tally

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