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An Improved Josefson Would Be Huge for This Team

Among the criticism weighed against the Devils, one of them is the lack of goal scoring beyond the top few consistent scorers. Someone who could seriously help that issue would be Jacob Josefson, whose offensive improvement would be huge for NJ.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

From the beginning of the season, it has been clear that Ray Shero and John Hynes have wanted to give former first round pick Jacob Josefson a good chance and a strong look at maintaining a top 9 position with the New Jersey Devils.  Josefson has not had similar line mates throughout the season, his most common partners being Jordin Tootoo and Brian O'Neill, but throughout the 44 games that he has played in NJ, he has mostly been given top 9 duties with players of a similar caliber.  Most recently, he has been used as the third line pivot along with Tyler Kennedy and Reid Boucher, but expect that line to continue to be fluid as players rotate in the bottom 6.

The current pace that Josefson is on, in terms of games played, is one that will give him the most games played in a season for his NHL career.  Last season he played 62 games with the big club, but other than that he has generally been a fringe NHL player, missing numerous games either from injuries or from healthy scratches.  His minutes have also been up this year.  This season he is averaging basically 15 and a half minutes per game, which is a solid number for a third line centerman.  Last year, however, when he did manage to play in 62 games, he only saw the ice for 12:26 per game.  He is playing around three minutes more per game, which is not insignificant.  He is playing more games, seeing the ice more per game, and is being given more responsibilities.

And for the look that he is getting this year, the general talk amongst the team and TV personalities is that Josefson has been a strong part of the squad.  Ken Daneyko specifically has really praised his contributions to the power play during recent broadcasts.  Despite the praise, however, his point production is still what plagues the Swede.  Josefson has 10 points in 44 games played, with only 3 of those points coming as goals.  Josefson has essentially become a Travis Zajac-lite: he plays decent minutes as a center, is generally solid in terms of two-way play, but does not light up the score sheet like his former draft position would make you desire.

Before we get into sweeping conclusions about how he needs to produce more points on a team starved for point production, let's look specifically at some of his numbers to see just what he does for this team on a nightly basis.

The first set of stats include the basic scoring statistics for Jacob, taken from NHL.com:

Player

GP

G

A

+/-

PPG

PPP

S

S%

FOW%

J.J.

44

3

7

-14

2

7

66

4.5

47.6

So let's dissect these numbers a little bit.  First the positive.  Daneyko is not wrong that Josefson has been a contributor on the power play.  His 7 power play points tie him for 6th on the team with Adam Henrique.  He also has 2 of his 3 goals for the season while on the man advantage, and should have had another one Tuesday against Edmonton had he not whiffed on a shot where he had an open net.

After that, however, things do not look nearly as good.  10 points in 44 games amounts to 0.23 points per game.  Scoring one point every 4-5 games is not going to cut it, plain and simple.  Also, while it is a team stat as much of an individual one, he is a -14, which may not say all that much, but take it as you will.  He is next to last on the team in terms of +/-, with only Jordin Tootoo having a worse number.  The player in front of him on the list who plays regularly, Stephen Gionta, is only a -8, so there is a rather large gap as well.  Regardless of the validity of +/-, the Devils seem to get smoked when he is out there on the ice.

Finally, he does not shoot nearly as much as he should.  66 shots in 44 games amounts to 1.5 shots per game.  That is not a great number.  In fact, 66 shots ranks 10th on the team, and 3 defensemen are ahead of him in the category: David Schlemko, Damon Severson and John Moore.  His one defense is that he has been snake bit with a 4.5% shooting percentage, but his career average is also only at 6.8%, so it is not like his percentage is drastically below the norm.  He has never been in double digits in his career in shooting percentage.  Shooting more per game would only increase his chances of raising that percentage, and it is something he should look to do more.  I mean, Nazem Kadri has had an exceptionally low shooting percentage for much of the year, but the dude just shoots the puck nonstop, and while he only has a 5.7% shooting percentage now, he has 11 goals.

Let's add in some other numbers to compliment the basic scoring stats.  The info in this chart comes from Hockey Analysis, and only includes 5 on 5 play:

Player

CF60

CA60

CF%

CF% Rel

OZFO%

NZFO%

DZFO%

J.J.

45.66

44.77

50.5

5.2

30.9

31.1

38.0

These stats bode much better for JJ.  His Corsi For at 5 on 5 is the best on the team amongst forwards, and he is in fact the only forward in positive numbers.  The next best forward in terms of Corsi, Michael Cammalleri, is only at 48.7%, so he has a nice cushion there.  Due to this, his relative Corsi is of course also the best on the team amongst the forwards.  The part that really helps is that he is not sheltered in his zone starts either.  He takes 38% of his faceoffs in the defensive zone, which is 3rd amongst forwards on the team with regular playing time.  Zajac is the highest, and he is only a half percentage point higher at 38.5%.  So JJ gets tough zone start assignments and still has the best possession stats amongst forwards.

What Does It Mean?

In the end, the stats mean that Josefson is in fact a contributor to this hockey club despite his scoring statistics.  His possession is the best amongst the forwards, so he is driving play.  Of course, he has not played against top competition, but given his general 3rd line duties, he has owned it in terms of possession.  He has also been a quality contributor to the power play, with the majority of his goals and points for the season coming on the man advantage.  The Devils do not have an excellent power play, but he certainly makes it better instead of worse.

Where he really needs to take it to the next level, therefore, is with scoring.  Zajac has been killed by fans for years for his lack of scoring ability.  Someone who is a top 6 center needs to light the lamps for his team to do well, and Zajac was not really that guy.  This season he has improved somewhat, with 26 points in 47 games, but it is still not at that potential that many fans would like to see from him, even with his strong two-way play.

Josefson was taken in the first round by New Jersey so that he could become a top 6 center for this club one day.  He has reached that age where we would hope to see that talent in full force.  While it has in terms of his two-way play, his special teams capabilities, and his possession, it has not in terms of scoring.  10 points in 44 games is just not going to cut it, especially on a team that desperately needs scoring from people outside of the top 4 of Lee Stempniak, Cammalleri, Henrique and Kyle Palmieri.

If he continues to play a solid two-way game this year but never develops a scoring touch, it will be interesting to see what management does in the offseason.  Josefson is a restricted free agent after this season, and currently makes $800k.  I would bet that he would be re-signed given that he would come fairly cheap and does provide quality and safe play on the third line.  But how far the team would go with the contract would be debatable.  What I'm sure they're hoping, and what us as fans should be hoping, is that he develops more of a scoring touch soon.  It would make him a more integral part of this team, and given his age, it could make him a vital piece of the transition back to yearly contention.  No one is expecting him to break out like Palmieri did this season, but if he can push even 0.5 points per game, it would greatly increase his value to this team.  And perhaps most importantly, the extra points he would provide this season would seriously help the Devils in their push for a playoff berth.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on Jacob Josefson's play this season?  Have you seen more positive things than in the past, or are you disappointed?  What do you think he needs to do to improve and become a more integral part of this roster?  What should the Devils do in terms of re-signing him if he continues to produce at a similar pace the rest of the year?  What about if he starts to score more?  Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.