Unlike the scorching hot October that the New Jersey Devils had to start the season, their November has not been anything to truly smile about. Their 4-6-2 record so far indicates that, and it really feels worse than that in many ways, seeing them fall basically all the way to the bottom of the Metropolitan in that time. Since Jesper Bratt returned from his injury eight games ago, New Jersey has gone 3-3-2, again nothing to even remotely write home about. His play on the ice, however, has been a welcome sight in an otherwise largely forgettable month of Devils’ hockey.
To quickly showcase this, here is a small sample size of stats and ranks for anyone who has played at least as many minutes as he has (92:49 at 5 on 5 after yesterday’s game). Stats and information come from Natural Stat Trick.
These are the obvious positive stats that showcase a good return for the winger. He has a 0.625 point percentage which is very good, especially for someone who was at 0.473 last season. That is definitive improvement, something that is both good and important to see from a 2nd year player. Beyond that, he has strong basic possession stats with a very positive 53.40 CF%, good for second amongst all forwards with at least as many minutes played as him, behind only Nico Hischier. And he is doing that despite owning only an offensive zone start percentage under 39%. He has been given tough minutes, playing almost exclusively on the second line with Pavel Zacha and Marcus Johansson, and they have largely been up to the task as a line. Finally, he has been incredibly unlucky in his 8 games since returning, with a PDO under 950 which is very, very unlucky.
Of course, not all of it has been positive. He has not come back and become the darling of the Devils, so to say. Underneath it all, he still is a 20 year old second year player who was drafted in the 6th round, 162nd overall. While his Corsi has been outstanding so far, that has not translated when it comes to relative Corsi. On that front, he is about break even so far, with the exact number sitting at -0.05. In essence, the Devils have not been better or worse in terms of possession with him out there or on the bench. And when it comes to high danger chances, the Devils have actually been better off with him on the bench. Bratt has a high danger Corsi For percentage (HDCF%) of 38.10%, dead worst on the team among forwards. That stays true for relative HDCF%, where his number sits at a miserable -19.43%. When he has been out there, New Jersey has given up high danger scoring chances at considerably higher rates than with him on the bench. That is very bad.
When you put all of those stats together, however, both the good ones in the chart and the bad ones just mentioned, I think it all sums up to a positive presence. Bratt is not the polished player in his second season that Hischier is, and there is no one who should expect that. As a 6th round selection, the odds of him playing in the NHL was always going to be low, and exponentially lower to be playing there before his 20th birthday. That he is here, and producing solidly and showing some positive underlying stats, that is definitely a good thing. He will continue to improve, no doubt, over the next several years and beyond. If he is already playing solid hockey now, that can only lead to better and better things this season and into the next.
Beyond just the projections for the future, however, right now his presence is beneficial to New Jersey, despite what might be true about high danger chances against. Perhaps most importantly, it has really helped Zacha. As well all know, things were not great for Pavel before his demotion to Binghamton. He was playing stellar defensive hockey and will probably always be a mainstay on the penalty kill for that purpose, but his offensive game was basically nonexistent. Well, that obviously changed when he came back. He has four goals in his last four games, and in the same time frame, has played a large amount of time with Bratt. Their WOWY numbers are interesting. They have played 60:30 5v5 minutes together versus only 14:04 without. Together, they have a 58.97 CF%, but both are well under 50% when without each other. In fact, Natural Stat Trick has Zacha with a 35.48 CF% without Bratt. That is insane, and I am not sure I believe it, but that is what the site says. Regardless, they clearly have both been playing better when paired together. If nothing else, Bratt being back has raised Zacha’s game, and that is something that this team desperately needed to happen. Let’s hope it can continue.
Overall, though, that line has been a solid second line for New Jersey, throwing Johansson in along with those two. With them being able to play well together, and with Nico back healthy, it allows John Hynes to move Travis Zajac into a third line center position. That gives the forward lines some much needed depth. When your third line is Zajac, Miles Wood and Blake Coleman, that isn’t too shabby. You might question if Bratt alone is really second line worthy, and perhaps is more like a third liner at this point in his career (same with Zacha), but when the line as a whole is playing up to that level, it strengthens the whole forward corps. That is vital for a team that is too reliant on its top line for scoring and production.
In the end, while it is not like getting a top line, point per game winger back, having Jesper Bratt back in the lineup for New Jersey has been a positive in what has otherwise been a November to forget. Not only is his game improving, something the Devils want to see for the upcoming seasons where their prospects are looking bright, but his presence is improving the team right now. Their record might not show growth, but when you isolate his game and the effect it is having on his linemates and the team as a whole, it is no doubt a good thing. If for nothing else, having him around to make Pavel Zacha look even remotely worth the first round pick spent on him makes him near invaluable, at least in my mind. Let’s hope that continues moving forward.
What do you think of Jesper Bratt’s game since his return to the lineup? Have you liked what you have seen, or are you lukewarm about him at best? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and thanks for reading!