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Jacob Josefson: Special Teams Ace

This post looks at just how Jacob Josefson has improved the power play of the New Jersey Devils, both from an on-ice and individual perspective. Read on for the details.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Sarch was kind enough to invite me onto Talking Red the other day to talk about a few items, including Jacob Josefson and his impact on the New Jersey Devils power play. Unfortunately, when we finished the episode, Dave sent me a message saying I was the worst guest he's had since the last time he invited me and promptly deleted the episode. So, I decided that writing up a quick post to illustrate just how integral Josefson has been on the power play would make sense since I had all the data prepped for the podcast-that-never-was.

Before I go any further, I do want to apologize for my lack of presence on this site this season. I've been just so busy managing more of a league-wide project and a few other life events this year that I have only had time to write a few pieces at Hockey-Graphs.

Now that I've apologized and you've all accepted it, let's get to it.

Power Play Metrics

Okay, so first off, we're going to just take a quick look at the Devils power play stats from their first fifty-six games, or just prior to Keith Kinkaid's stonewalling of the Los Angeles Kings this past Sunday. I filtered for players who were on the ice for at least forty minutes of power play time and sorted by how many scoring chances the team generates per sixty minutes. Here are the results.


And this isn't from a super-small sample size for Josefson either, as he's played 108 minutes on the power play, or only seven minutes fewer than Travis Zajac. Simply put, the Devils power play is at its most dangerous when Josefson is on the ice.

Josefson's Quality Involvement

This season, we're not only tracking 5v5 play, but all situations. Fellow AATJ writer and prospect whiz, Brian Franken, and fellow Devils fan Kevin Winstanley, are tracking the Devils this season and they've tracked forty-seven of the Devils fifty-seven games thus far this season. So, we're on pace to finish the season likely two to four weeks after the regular season ends. What we're going to look at first are the passes Josefson makes on the power play. Since we haven't tracked every game at this point, Josefson's minutes drop from 108 to 86 on the power play.


What you're looking at is a graph showing a player's primary, secondary, and tertiary shot assist at a per-sixty minute rate. To get a sense of where they're coming from or how JJ likes to set up on the power play, here it is visually.

JJ Shot Assists

So, we know that Josefson has found a home on the half-boards on the right side of the Devils formation. Typically, this player will have greater influence over how the power play unfolds than others. You can see the heavy concentration of passes on the right side of the ice as Josefson and whichever defenseman is playing the point, most recently David Schlemko. There are several cross-ice passes in and around the goal as well. These visualizations aren't a perfect representation, but they do give an idea to where Josefson likes to operate.

I mentioned his "quality" involvement above and I'm going to elaborate on this now. Pre-shot movement is key to scoring goals. Not only pre-shot movement, but start and end locations of the pass and their proximity to the goal. Two of the more dangerous types of chances are passes across the Royal Road or from behind the net. Logically, these passes force the goalie to move across, track the puck, and give them less time to get set for a shot than without this pre-shot movement. For lack of a better term, I simply call these "Danger Zone" Chances, and let's have a look at how many of these chances the Devils generate with each of their players on the ice.


So, quantity and quality from the Devils offense with Josefson on the ice.

Adding Shots

Not only is Josefson effective at moving the puck on the power play, but he shoots quite often as well. He's third in terms of forwards, behind Mike Cammalleri with 13.9 individual shots per sixty minutes. He's not the primary shooting option, but can contribute in that manner as well. Recently, I wrote a piece using our passing metrics over the last few seasons to arrive at a baseline for incorporating quality into a player's shot rate metrics. Josefson's role on the Devils power play could be inflating his passing totals, so we would want to focus strictly on primary shot events (shooter or final passer). When we do that, we get the following.


Well, he's no Kyle Palmieri. Josefson isn't a volume shooter, but in through tracking the Devils power plays this season we find value where we didn't know to look for it originally. Josefson leads the Devils in generating shots through passes on the power play, whether they are of the primary, secondary, or tertiary variety. Players that recycle possession for their team typically will see their passing totals increase in the secondary and tertiary categories. What does this mean? It could mean that Josefson simply plays pitch-and-catch with other players before a shot is taken. While there's some of that present in everyone's stats on the power play, it also acts as a proxy for winning those contested pucks and recovering them in order to start another shot sequence.


Jacob Josefson has had many words written about him on this site. In fact, we're almost at the two-year mark from this one from former writer, Jerry Tierney, debating Josefson's inclusion in the lineup amidst former coach Peter DeBoer's steadfast approach with the CBGB (Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier - Stephen Gionta) line. Much has been written since on JJ and I think that at the age of twenty-four, this is what JJ is: he's Tyler Kennedy that can  mprove both the power play and the penalty kill. To wit: here are the forwards the Devils have used the most on the penalty kill this year and their respective scoring chances against while they are on the ice.


So, the Devils generate their highest rate of scoring chances for on the power play and allow their lowest rate of scoring chances against on the penalty kill with Jacob Josefson on the ice. I said above that he may be Tyler Kennedy plus the special teams contributions and that's more than okay. Kennedy has been a solid shot-differential player for most of his career, but he's not going to score enough for a top-six role. Josefson is roughly that same player, but happens to excel on special teams. With Gionta in the last year of his contract, Josefson should be able to slot right into the 4th line center role and that will improve the team. He can be stabilizing presence in the bottom six and contribute quite well on special teams. Successful teams use players like this to allow for their top-end players to succeed.

Basically, Josefson is still only twenty-four years old and he's been here for several seasons, generally raising the puck possession of his teammates when he's with them. He also hasn't had much in the way of quality of forward teammates, given that he has spent the most ice time with David Clarkson, Tuomo Ruutu, and Dainius Zubrus over the past five complete seasons. His relative Corsi numbers (how the team performs relative to when Josefson is on the ice or not) have also increased steadily over the last several seasons. If this is his ceiling (reliable two-way play plus exceptional special teams play), wouldn't we be pleased with that? Questions? Comments? If your comments don't start with "Thank you Brian and Kevin" then I'm not reading them.