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Arguing Against the Numbers: Jacob Josefson

For today's post, I wanted to do something a little different. Rather than arguing a point by using advanced statistics and numbers to back it up, I wanted to go old school and use the eye test to argue that Jacob Josefson deserves quality playing time.

What a sweet goal that was.
What a sweet goal that was.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Here at In Lou We Trust, we put a hefty amount of stock into analytics and numbers.  This is not always true in all communities, but we like to believe that numbers are important and tell us a lot about how an individual or a team is performing.  Stats like Corsi, Fenwick and all of their variants, offensive zone start percentage, zone exits and entries, and other numbers can really clarify someone's performance on the ice.  To this I completely agree with and buy into.

However, there comes a time when the numbers do not always tell the whole story, and the eye test needs to come into play.  Bring in the much maligned Jacob Josefson.  The numbers have never been kind to him.  His Fenwick percentages have fallen every year since he was drafted back in 2009.  He never put up many points in his career, posting 8 goals and 19 assists in 125 total games for the New Jersey Devils.  And he has done this all while receiving about normal luck when on the ice, his PDO averaging out at 99.1 since he entered the league.  His luck off the ice has been much worse, as he has also been quite injury prone, missing long stretches of action.

For anyone who was strictly looking at analytics, they would probably never argue for Josefson to take the ice, and definitely never take the ice as more than a fourth liner.  However, today I want to go against what I would usually do and I want to argue against those numbers.  I want to argue for Jacob Josefson to receive more playing time, and to do it in a top 9 role (at least until everyone is healthy again).  The argument that I will give has real minimal statistical backing, and in fact when I write about his current statistics for this season, it will most likely hurt my argument considerably.  Nonetheless, when I have watched him play recently, he has shown me that he has improved and that he can potentially become a regular contributor to this team, even if only on a bottom 6 role.

The Not-So-Pretty Stats

Before I argue for him to play, I still want to show his statistics for this season, even if they go against my argument.  I feel like it is important to be as informed as possible, even if it hurts what I will say.  All stats that I will discuss here are from the previously linked sites as well as Behind the Net and War on Ice. Note: all stats taken before last night's game in Detroit.

This season, JJ has averaged close to 10 and a half minutes a game over the 7 games that he has played in.  In that time, he has been on the ice for 2 goals for, one of which he scored and one of which he helped assist in.  His =/-, according to the Devils' main website, is at 0, meaning that he was also on the ice for 2 goals against.  He has only posted 5 shots on net this season, which is really low for the amount of ice time he has had.

As for possession, his Fenwick this season has been poor, with a FF% of 47.7%.  This is the lowest of his career to date.  This obviously hurts his relative Fenwick, which is at a -5.21%.  The numbers for Corsi are similarly poor, with a relative Corsi of -6.9%.  He has been a little bit unlucky as compared to the rest of his career, with a PDO this season of 98.1.  However, that is not a PDO which screams that his numbers are being suppressed to a large degree.  Mostly, those numbers are on him.

Despite being a defensively-minded forward, JJ has actually started over 57% of his shifts in the offensive zone during 5 on 5 play.  Peter DeBoer has clearly been looking to give the kid some success by providing offensive opportunities.  Sadly, they have not really been working out that way, as his offensive zone finish percentage is only at 49% during 5 on 5.  When comparing these two numbers, it shows that while more of his shifts start in the offensive zone, the majority of them end up either in the neutral or defensive zones.  This is another indication that the ice is tilted against Josefson when he is out there.

Finally, to show a positive in his numbers (and also because I feel this to be relevant and somewhat important), JJ has been a good faceoff man this year.  He has won 24 draws and only lost 20, to the tune of a 54.55% faceoff percentage.  If he keeps that up over the entire season, he will be up with Travis Zajac as the only people on this team who can be counted on for positive faceoff percentages.

Now...Going Against those Stats

I know I know...those stats are not great.  At best, they are worthy of a fourth line role.  I would definitely argue they are worth having over the likes of Jordin Tootoo, who has a relative Corsi of -33.8%, but they are nothing spectacular.  To this I cannot argue against, nor will I even try to argue against.

Instead, I want to just speak from what I have seen.  Since JJ has been called up this year, it seems like he has been better.  The easiest way for me to describe it is it seems like he now belongs.  In the past, he looked more like a Mattias Tedenby, where he simply did not belong in this league.  In baseball terms, you could equate it to being a quad-A player.  Better than triple-A players, but not at a high enough talent level to really belong in the bigs.  We were always hoping for him to take that jump and really enter into the ranks of the quality NHLers.

I feel like from looking at him this season that he is now there, at least confidence-wise.  He does not look nervous, does not look out of place.  He does not look like he is playing to not be sent down.  Instead, he is playing like he deserves to be there and has the ability to be there.  Instead of playing not to lose, he is now playing to win.  Again, this is a total conjecture and I have no statistical backing for this whatsoever, but this is simply what I see from watching him play.

I think the best examples are his excellent short-handed goal against the Penguins and his shootout winner to break the streak-to-end-all-streaks (or so it seemed anyway).  Those types of moves and goals are not generated by someone who is just doing what they can to not be sent down.  He seemingly had full confidence in himself to pull off both of those goals, and they were not easy at all.  Especially on a team that cannot score a breakaway or shootout goal to save its own neck.

But further than those flashy plays too, whenever he is on the ice, I notice.  In the past, it was very easy to watch an entire game in which he played and wonder if he was actually on the ice at some point.  He had too many forgettable games, too many times where he was invisible.  This season has been the opposite.  He is out there creating plays and generating opportunities.  Yes the numbers say that he is not doing those things, and again I cannot backup what I am saying at all.  It just seems like he is doing these things from the eye test.  And for someone who has been invisible too long, I have to note this and think of it as a good thing.  He is here through the end of next season, and like it or not, that means he will most likely be getting opportunities to show that he is worth it.  Of course, as a former first round pick, he has gotten way more of these opportunities than most skaters ever will.  But this is one of the first opportunities where I can really see improvement from him; really see him becoming an NHL-caliber player.

To this end, I really hope that he gets more third line minutes.  It is tough to showcase your talent and prove that you deserve to play in the NHL when you are playing alongside fourth line talent and getting fourth line minutes.  He needs more talent around him to bring out the best of his abilities.  He has never been a pure goal scorer, and most likely never will.  But if he is surrounded by talented players, he could work to generate offense, get assists, and be out there on the ice when good things happen.  That is not to say that Tuomo Ruutu and Stephen Gionta are not talented players.  They are.  But playing alongside perhaps Ryane Clowe, Damien Brunner, Michael Ryder, or even the likes of Patrik Elias would do him much better.

The hardest part, of course, is that when everyone is healthy, there really is no room for him in the top 9.  When Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat, and Adam Henrique return, where will he go?  To that I am not sure, and the answer may very well be the fourth line.  But while at least some of them are hurt, I hope that DeBoer lets him center the third line.  It seems to me like this could be the opportunity where he shows everyone what he can do in the NHL, and I want to see that happen.

What Do You Think?

Anyway, that is simply my opinion.  I usually prefer to back up my opinions with numbers and facts, but this time I have none.  Therefore, feel free to bash away.  Am I foolish for thinking that this could be the time he shows us all that he can perform in the NHL?  Should the Devils be moving on and looking for talent elsewhere?  Or do you also see what I see when you watch him play this season, and do you want to see him get third line minutes like I do?  Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.