Early on Monday morning, news broke that the New Jersey Devils signed a pair of international prospects, Mikhail Maltsev and Fabian Zetterlund, to three-year, entry-level deals.
Zetterlund, 19, was drafted 63rd overall in 2017. Last season he picked up just four points in 16 SHL games, but is viewed of as more of a role player.
Maltsev, 21, on the other hand, was drafted 102nd overall in 2016. He split this past season between the KHL and Russia’s top junior league (VHL), recording two points in 13 KHL games with SKA St. Petersburg and 17 points in 31 VHL games for SKA-Neva St. Petersburg.
With Devils general manager Ray Shero taking care of some household items by signing prospects to entry-level deals, this led some fans to wonder about top international prospect Jesper Boqvist, and whether or not an entry-level deal was close.
NHL or SHL Next Season For Jesper Boqvist
While both Zetturlund and Maltsev have an opportunity to play with the AHL’s Binghamton Devils if they don’t make the Devils roster out of training camp, that won’t be the case for Boqvist.
Interestingly enough, there is an agreement in place between the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the Swedish Hockey League. 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.
This means that the only way the Devils will offer Boqvist his entry-level deal is if they believe he’s NHL ready. Boqvist already put pen to paper, signing a one-year deal with his former club just in case an entry-level deal doesn’t come to fruition:
Is Jesper Boqvist NHL Ready?
The 20-year-old center is coming off an impressive season in which he recorded 35 points in 52 games for Brynäs IF. His point totals while competing against men for the first time in his career put Boqvist in the top-20 in goals, top-16 in assists, tied for second in points by players under the age of 21, and second in even strength scoring in the SHL last season.
Not many players enjoy this type of success in the SHL at such a young age, but the young Swede has a unique skillset that sets him apart from many others. He possesses a rare combination of foot speed, agility, and above average puck-handling skills that often lead to matchup problems for opposing players.
According to Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, Boqvist’s 0.67 points-per-game in the SHL would have translated to 32 points in the NHL last season, which would have put him eighth in Devils scoring behind fellow Swede Jesper Bratt (33), which is pretty impressive for a 20-year-old kid.
Furthermore, over the past decade, only 11 players 21 years or younger produced 35 or more points in a single SHL season, similar to Boqvist. This list includes top-six NHL forwards Oskar Lindblom, Andreas Johnson, and Marcus Kruger, among others. It’s encouraging to see Boqvist surrounded by such company, even more so when you factor in some players who fell short of the 35-point plateau in the SHL, like Jakob Silfverberg, Elias Lindholm, and former Devil, Marcus Johansson.
Depending on what the Devils do with the first-overall pick, it’ll be interesting to see what Boqvist’s role with the team will be if they offer him a contract. If the Devils select the consensus No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes, Boqvist will likely have to shift to the wing and play alongside Hughes or Nico Hischier, taking the place of Blake Coleman or Miles Wood, who both, realistically speaking, are better served on the Devils’ third or fourth line. If the Devils decide to draft Kaapo Kakko instead, Boqvist might have a chance to break camp as one of the club’s top centers, which comes with a little more responsibility.
During their exit meeting, Shero, head coach Jon Hynes, and top-player Taylor Hall expressed a need to add talent to the roster. If Boqvist’s play can translate to the NHL, he would provide in the talent category by adding a scoring pedigree to the team’s core.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Devils decide to bring him to New Jersey next season.