There’s been a ton of hype around the New Jersey Devils and their prospects, namely Jack Hughes, who was the first overall pick at the Entry Draft this past June. He’s shown flashes of what makes him the top prospect that he is, but he’s not the only young player who’s stood out. Jesper Boqvist, who was a 2017 second-round pick of the Devils, has made his mark in the preseason and looks ready for NHL action. Here’s why the Devils need to keep him on their final 23-man roster when it’s released.
Boqvist Hasn’t Looked Out of Place
Boqvist spent the last two seasons in Sweden and had a breakout campaign in 2018-19, finishing with 35 points in 51 games for Brynas IF in the SHL. This summer marked his first on North American ice, beginning with the Prospects Challenge at the start of September, where he was one of the team’s top performers. That strong start seems to have carried over into the preseason, too.
In his first game, the Devils had a 17-7 shot attempt advantage with Boqvist on the ice, as well as a 6-0 edge in high-danger chances. He only finished with one shot on goal, but he had a positive impact when on the ice, even if it came against a watered-down Boston Bruins’ lineup. So it was a good start for a player who hadn’t played against NHL competition before.
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Boqvist’s next opportunity came against the New York Rangers on Sept. 18, and it was another solid showing. The Devils broke even in shot attempts with him on the ice. And he showed his ability to be smart with the puck, with no giveaways for the second straight game. He finally got on the scoresheet in his next appearance, which came against the New York Islanders, where he scored two goals — including the game-winner — while firing four shots on goal.
In the Devils’ most recent tune-up against the Bruins, Boqvist began on the team’s top line alongside Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, and he looked up to the task. He once again broke even in shot attempts, and while he only had one shot on goal, he set up his teammates for a couple of quality scoring chances.
What’s most noticeable about Boqvist is his skating ability as he’s smooth and speedy. He doesn’t have elite vision or playmaking potential, but he does have the upside to be a legitimate top-six scoring threat. And for someone who has limited experience on the smaller NHL rinks, his transition has been seamless for the most part. And that should all work in his favor.
Versatility Will Help
How the Devils use Boqvist will be determined by how well he plays. But so far, they’ve shown a willingness to use him with different linemates, as well as in different positions. He’s played left-wing alongside Travis Zajac and Bratt, which could make for a pretty decent third line if that’s the route they choose to go. Boqvist and Bratt were teammates for Sweden’s national team at the youth level, so there’s potential chemistry with this combination.
Boqvist has also played as a right-wing during the preseason. Nikita Gusev, one of the team’s new additions, and Hughes are sure to be top-six forwards. And if they’re linemates, they will need someone playing on their wing. Wayne Simmonds, who the Devils signed as a free agent, looks like a favorite to earn that spot, at least to start. But if he doesn’t work out, it could be Boqvist’s chance to move into the top six.
Although he’s played left and right-wing this preseason, Boqvist had been playing center when the Devils drafted him. While he’s played there as recently as the Prospects Challenge, the team has great depth down the middle with Hughes, Zajac, Nico Hischier, and Pavel Zacha. So that might make it tough for Boqvist to play the position. But if an injury occurs to one of those four, he could slide in at center without much of a drop-off.
Another area where Boqvist will be able to help is on the power play. He’s seen quite a bit of time there during the preseason. And he’s already made a good case for regular-season minutes as his two goals came while up a man. It’ll be hard for him to crack the team’s first unit, given all the talent they have. But he will provide another playmaking threat on a second wave that could have players like Hischier and Bratt on it, depending on how things shake out.
Boqvist has shown why he’s one of Devils’ most exciting prospects. He can play any position up front, and his offensive upside should fit in well on a roster that’ll have an improved attack. He may still be 21 years old, but he’s played in a professional league since being drafted, and that seems to have helped him during exhibition games. He’s demonstrated he’s one of the team’s 12 best forwards. And since their final 23-man roster should consist of their 12 best, it’d be a mistake to leave him off.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick