On Monday, the New Jersey Devils announced that they signed top forward prospect Jesper Boqvist to an entry-level deal.
Boqvist was originally drafted 36th overall in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft, becoming general manager Ray Shero’s second pick after he selected Nico Hischier first overall.
Boqvist spent the past two seasons back home in Sweden playing for Brynäs IF of the SHL. The 20-year old is coming off an incredibly impressive season in which he averaged .67 points per game and finished second in the league in even strength scoring.
Needless to say, Boqvist is an extremely talented player and there’s no reason to believe he won’t enjoy similar success at the NHL level starting next season. There is an agreement in place between the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the Swedish Hockey League that states should Boqvist sign a contract this offseason, he will either have to be on the Devils’ NHL roster or be sent back to compete in Sweden’s top league.
By offering him an entry-level contract and bringing him across the pond, it seems as if the Devils’ front office is sold on believing Boqvist can contribute to the Devils starting next season, which might also affect their offseason approach as we head into the summer.
Devils’ Draft Day Decision Post-Boqvist
While Boqvist played a majority of his SHL games lined up at center, his skillset might translate better as a winger in the NHL. He has incredible poise with the puck and possesses a rare combination of footspeed, agility, and above average puck-handling skills that often lead to matchup problems for opposing players.
That said, if the Devils do decide to convert him to wing, they’ll feature an overcrowded depth chart that includes Boqvist as well as Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Blake Coleman, Miles Wood, Joey Anderson, Nathan Bastian, and fellow Swede Jesper Bratt. This might lead to the Devils selecting Jack Hughes first overall as a center instead of Kaapo Kakko who plays primarily right wing.
However, if the Devils do decide to keep Boqvist at center and slot him into their depth chart with Hischier, Travis Zajac and Pavel Zacha, they might decide to go with Kakko first overall instead of Jack Hughes.
Boqvist Will Save Devils Money to Spend Elsewhere
Adding Hughes/Kakko alongside Boqvist to their opening day lineup next season will completely upgrade the Devils’ roster in terms of skill. It also makes their offense really young and inexperienced. But, if Boqvist’s strong play can translate in the NHL and he can provide top-six numbers while on his entry-level deal, the Devils can use the excess cash on some of their other organizational needs such as a defense and/or locking up some of their core players long-term.
If the Devils decide to play Boqvist on one of their top two lines instead of splurging on a top-six UFA forward, they can potentially enter the Erik Karlsson and Tyler Myers sweepstakes or explore a sign-and-trade for a player like Jacob Trouba.
If they decide to bring in some more forward depth even with Boqvist in their top six, they can use the extra money to bring in a role player or two like Brandon Pirri or entertain a reunion with a guy like Patrick Maroon or Brian Boyle to plug other areas of need such as grit and penalty kill.
Boqvist Can Fix Power Play Issues
Though the numbers are a bit inflated with Hall sidelined for a majority of the season, the Devils ranked in the bottom third of the league in power-play percentage with a 17.7 percent conversion rate in 2018-19.
Instead of bringing in a power play specialist via free-agency like Anders Lee, they can roll the dice on Boqvist, who projects to have a positive impact on the man advantage. During his time in Sweden, Brynäs’ power play pretty much ran through him, as they would get him the puck as often as possible and rely on him to make elite passes and set up everyone else on the power play.
Head coach John Hynes can load up a power play with Boqvist on top of the umbrella feeding Hall and Damon Severson on their one-time sides and let Will Butcher quarterback a second unit.
In conclusion, the Boqvist signing has a positive trickle-down effect for the Devils, starting with how he factors into their offseason approach. The next few weeks should be very telling for the future of the Devils, and after today we learned Boqvist might have a big part in it.