The New Jersey Devils came away with a resounding 7-3 win last night against the Florida Panthers to move them to 6-3-2 on the season. Despite the Panthers playing well at five-on-five, the Devils won the special teams battle and capitalized on their scoring chances against a struggling Spencer Knight, something they wouldn’t have done last season. Their bottom-six depth also got a bit of a spark with some new faces in Jesper Boqvist and Tyce Thompson, and they made a difference.
Boqvist tallied an assist, while Thompson didn’t find the scoresheet. But they both added some skill and speed the Devils had not gotten much of from their bottom-six this season. Let’s go over their season debuts and what the Devils will need from them moving forward as they wait for Jack Hughes to return from a dislocated shoulder.
Boqvist & Thompson Perform Well in 2021-22 Debuts
Thompson and Boqvist received NHL call-ups before yesterday’s game after having strong starts with the Utica Comets in the AHL. Boqvist had eight points in seven games with the Comets, while Thompson had four goals and seven points in seven games. They were significant reasons why the Comets had gotten off to a 7-0-0 start.
Boqvist is in a bit of a unique spot with the Devils. This is his third season with the organization since he signed his entry-level deal during the 2019 offseason. He’s had a couple of NHL stints, but had yet to establish himself as a regular on the Devils’ roster. One game won’t lock you into a full-time NHL gig, but he got off to a pretty good start yesterday.
No one on the Devils had particularly great on-ice numbers at five-on-five last night (Alex Holtz and Ryan Graves were the only Devils with expected goals percentages above 50 percent). That’s just what the Panthers do; they have the best Corsi percentage and sixth-best xG% in the league at that game state. But even then, Boqvist was quite involved on the third line with Tomáš Tatar and Janne Kuokkanen.
Boqvist finished tied for second on the team in shots on goal with three, and he added four shot attempts and one high-danger chance. He also finished tied for the team lead in shot contributions with Holtz (shot contributions are shot attempts and shot assists, which is a pass that leads to a shot on goal).
In his post-game press conference, head coach Lindy Ruff stated it might’ve been the best game he’s seen Boqvist play since he took over as head coach last season. That seems like a pretty fair assessment. And it helped that Boqvist played with two players who are close in skill level to him in Tatar and Kuokkanen, something he hasn’t always had with the Devils.
As for Thompson, he wasn’t as involved as Boqvist, but he had a couple of notable plays. He drew a power play in the first period that led to Andreas Johnsson’s first goal of the game. He also hit the post late in the third period as the Devils were putting the finishing touches on their victory. Aside from the iron he hit, he finished the night with one shot on goal and one high-danger chance, a better performance than what the Devils had gotten from most of their fourth-liners in recent games.
What Devils Need From Thompson & Boqvist
With Hughes out for at least another month or so, this is a big spot for Boqvist. If he can build on his performance from last night, there’s room for him as the team’s third-line center, even when Hughes returns. Sure, Dawson Mercer has been terrific as a second- or third-line center. But ideally, he’s someone the Devils will like in their top-six when Hughes and Nico Hischier are healthy. That means a move to right wing would be in the cards for Mercer if Boqvist shows he belongs in the NHL.
Related: Devils Will Miss Miles Wood
Imagine Mercer on the wing alongside either Hischier or Hughes? There’s certainly a ton of potential there. But it all depends on how well Boqvist can do as their third-line center. He’s a high-end skater, and when he’s on his game as he was last night, he can facilitate play and create chances for his linemates. That style of play fits well down the middle, and he seems more comfortable at the position. It may move Mercer to right wing, but that sure seems like a good problem to have.
With Thompson, it does look like the Devils are trying to replace the void left by Miles Wood, who’s out indefinitely after having hip surgery. Thompson is not the player Wood is. He’s a good skater, but he certainly doesn’t have the speed Wood does, nor does he have the same size. With that said, Thompson has some skill, and could add some elements to the Devils’ bottom-six that they’re missing without Wood.
Thompson was one of Providence College’s top scorers in the NCAA, and he recently netted a hat trick for the Comets. He probably isn’t going to be the potential 20-goal scorer Wood can be, at least not at this point in his career. But there’s some offensive potential with him. Aside from offense, Wood drew the third-most penalties on the team last season, so Thompson drawing power plays can’t hurt. His shot off the post in the third period came from a high-danger area. Wood had the second-most high-danger chances on the team in 2020-21, so if Thompson can generate those two things consistently, the team’s bottom-six will benefit from it.
It’s also worth noting that with Boqvist taking over as the third-line center, that should allow Michael McLeod to settle back into a more suitable fourth-line role alongside Thompson and Jimmy Vesey. McLeod hasn’t been anywhere close to awful this season, but he has struggled at times moving up and down the lineup since Hughes’ injury. Thompson and Vesey are two players who skate well that can chip in offensively, and they could help the Devils regain a bit of what they had with Wood, McLeod and Nathan Bastian as their fourth line when McLeod played his best in 2020-21.
The Devils’ looked faster and more skilled with Boqvist and Thompson in the lineup. They add a different and welcomed dimension to the team’s bottom-six that they weren’t getting from Frédérik Gauthier or Mason Geersten. And if they show they’re ready to stay in the NHL, then the Devils could have a threatening set of four lines once Hughes returns from his injury.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017