As the Devils roll on through what has become quite an eventful offseason, they will now look to free agency to continue to improve their roster. The Devils added PK Subban via trade at the NHL Draft to go a long way towards fixing their group along the blue line and selected Jack Hughes first overall to bolster their forwards down the middle. The one significant hole that remains in the skater depth chart that has seen no additions from outside the organization is at wing. While some of the potential big options in free agency have ended up re-signing with their teams, other quality wingers still remain. Among the best of that group is a longtime Red Wing who became a Shark at this past year's trade deadline, Gustav Nyquist.
Gustav Nyquist, a left shot who typically has played on the right on his off wing, was drafted back in 2008 in the fourth round by Detroit and, despite not arriving in the league full-time until his age 24 season, paid massive dividends based on where he was selected. Nyquist took an interesting route to the NHL, being selected out of Malmo in Swedish juniors and then coming over to the U.S. to play college hockey for the University of Maine. At Maine, Nyquist put up big numbers and actually led the entire NCAA in scoring in his sophomore season. He would sign with Detroit after his junior season to make the jump to professional hockey and then spent a majority of the next two seasons in Grand Rapids in the AHL, though he did appear in 40 total games for the Red Wings big club in that stretch.
Nyquist broke into the league full-time during the 2013-14 season, making a huge impact for the Wings with 28 goals and 48 points in 57 appearances with the big club. Nyquist was good enough that he actually even grabbed a handful of top-5 votes for the Hart Trophy in that 2013-14 campaign. Following that campaign, Nyquist would never quite replicate that 0.84 point-per-game scoring rate, but he would continue to be a solid contributor for Detroit the next four full seasons, putting up at least 40 points each year and only missing 6 games total over that span. Nyquist has been remarkably durable since breaking into the league, playing 80+ games in four of his five full seasons.
By the Numbers
Nyquist hasn’t quite been able to live up to the huge first season he had in the league, but he has been a reliable scorer, and is always good for at least 40 points. In 2018-19, he put up career highs in assists (38) and points (60). This strong season was largely in vain over the first 60 games, as he was with a Red Wings team that was still bottoming out as it works through a rebuild. At the trade deadline, though, Nyquist got a big change of scenery, going to a very good Sharks team for the stretch run. Nyquist fit in decently with the Sharks, putting up 11 points (6g, 5a) in 19 regular season games and 11 points (1g, 10a) in 20 postseason games as part of a deep and talented San Jose squad.
In terms of underlying numbers, Nyquist has been generally strong throughout his career. His relative shot metrics have been largely positive over the years, with him pretty consistently having increases in on-ice shots and attempts for and fluctuating a bit more but generally coming out ahead in shots against (via Natural Stat Trick). This past season, Nyquist saw big positive impacts across the board at even strength, moving the needle substantially on both offense and defense. His offensive and defensive rate impacts from Evolving Hockey can be seen below, and they are clearly fantastic at even strength. Nyquist did seemingly struggle a bit on the power play this season, though, with his impacts showing significantly negative there. This is unsurprising given that he had only two goals and 10 assists in substantial power play minutes for both Detroit and San Jose. Looking at his three-season RAPM numbers from Evolving Hockey, we can see that while this season was particularly bad from a power play perspective, it also isn’t a total aberration as his value has generally come at evens in the past few years.
In terms of GAR (again via Evolving Hockey), Nyquist was 61st in the league among forwards at even strength, meaning he had first-line-level impacts this year at 5v5. For the Devils, a team in need of players who can move the needle, they could do a whole lot worse than Nyquist. This year was one of Nyquist’s best for sure, but it is by no means an aberration. A look at his career trends show him regularly making a substantial positive impact, though his breakout season in 2013-14 remains his best by this measure as well. His career GAR chart below shows him consistently driving good results.
Is He a Fit for the Devils?
Nyquist makes a whole bunch of sense for the Devils, given that they could use some extra help at right wing, and he has been a consistently very good one. The one knock there might be against signing Nyquist is his age, as he will be 30 in September. He hasn’t shown signs of tailing off yet though, with last season being one of his strongest. And with the Devils bringing in PK Subban this past weekend, the team is clearly positioning themselves to compete soon. Given how good Nyquist has generally been over his career, and the fact that he will likely command significant-but-not-outrageous dollars this offseason, he seems like an ideal fit in New Jersey. As a consistent producer and play-driver, he could also serve as a great veteran complement to a young center like, say, Jack Hughes. We’ll see how aggressive Ray Shero gets when free agency opens, but if Nyquist is willing to come to New Jersey, the Devils should be pursuing a player like him aggressively to round out their lineup.
So what do you think about the Devils pursuing Gustav Nyquist? Do you think he is a fit for this team? Are there any things about him that give you pause about bringing him in? What do you think are the Devils’ chances of landing him? Sound off with you thoughts below and thanks for reading.