One of the big questions coming into camp for New Jersey revolved around Swedish prospect 2017 second-round draft pick, Jesper Boqvist. Namely, would Boqvist be able to snag a spot on a roster where up to 11 spots at forward were pretty much already locked down. Training camp and the preseason have now just about concluded, with the Devils playing their final exhibition today against Columbus. Just about all of the roster cuts have been made at this point (including a couple of significant ones this morning in Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian). With those two most recent cuts, the roster is now down to 25 players. It will have to be 23 by opening night, so two cuts remain.
On Wednesday, CJ dove into the other highly-touted non-Jack-Huges prospect, Ty Smith, and discussed how the preseason has been a bit of a disappointment for him. Today, we take a similar look at Boqvist, but with an alternate conclusion. Jesper Boqvist, instead of perhaps introducing more question marks like Smith, has looked every bit the part of an NHL player to this point. That means the looming question of whether he would have to return to the SHL for another season has perhaps (hopefully) been answered. Let’s dig into his camp and preseason to this point.
What Do the Numbers Say?
The numbers for Boqvist’s preseason are good, though also not across-the-board spectacular. The positives are clear: Boqvist has some of the strongest on-ice numbers on the team in pretty substantial 5v5 minutes (at least as far as preseason samples go). His relative shot metrics are all comfortably positive, and he has one of the best relative expected goals numbers on the team. Good things are happening with Boqvist on the ice at 5v5. In terms of raw numbers, at 5v5, the Devils have out-attempted opponents 44-37, outshot them 26-25, out-chanced them 21-15, out-high-danger-chanced them 9-5, and outscored them 3-1 with Boqvist on the ice. And he has compiled his strong relative numbers by having positive impacts in shots/chances/goals for as well as against. Again, this is all a) preseason and b) not a very large sample, but it’s encouraging.
As far as his individual production numbers, those don’t necessarily stand out as much, with two goals (both on the power play) and no assists to go with it in four games to this point. His 5v5 production hasn’t been there to this point, nor have the 5v5 shots, but with his strong on ice impacts and some solid work on the power play, that can be overlooked to an extent (for now). Generally speaking, Boqvist has been far from out of place on NHL ice thus far with flashes of real high-end skill, and for building a roster, that should be enough to keep him around.
Watch the Games, Nerd
Strictly from a visual perspective, by my personal viewings and from the accounts of others, there has been general agreement that Jesper Boqvist has looked like he belongs in the NHL in his preseason appearances. This can be a tricky thing to judge sometimes, but Boqvist seems at home on NHL ice and appears manage the speed and decision making needs of the league just fine. In some stretches, he has shown the type of vision and playmaking that has made fellow rookie Jack Hughes an instant breakout hit this season, though Boqvist has yet to have a teammate finish a pass from him. Even without gaudy point totals to back it up, it seems pretty clear that the skill he brings is high-end.
Whether lined up with Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac, or Mikhail Maltsev, Boqvist has looked strong. He also looked great alongside Jack Hughes at the prospect challenge before camp opened. Given the wide range of skillsets from those linemates, it seems that Boqvist will be well-suited to carve out a role wherever he ends up in the lineup (assuming he sticks around). And Boqvist, while not a particularly physically imposing player, has not been afraid to mix it up down low at times. To wit, his two goals against the Islanders last weekend were both in the midst of some heavy traffic in front of the net on the power play. He’s going to make his hay with his skill on the puck, often from the perimeter, but the coaches appreciate a willingness to go to the net, so to speak, and Boqvist seems willing to do that. Overall, I think most would agree that the eye test has been passed handily.
So we’ve hit on Boqvist’s generally solid play to this point, but who is he up against for one of the final roster spots. Taking out all of the definite locks, the list of players who could conceivably be one of the final two cuts is as follows: Boqvist, Ty Smith, Kevin Rooney, John Hayden, and Matt Tennyson. You can potentially add Mirco Mueller and Connor Carrick, neither of whom has been very good this preseason, into the mix there as well.
There are a couple ways final cuts can go here, with the two main options depending on whether the Devils go 13 forwards, 8 defensemen, or 14 forwards, 7 defensemen. For Boqvist, the 14F-7D option pretty much locks him into the roster. That option likely involves jettisoning Ty Smith and Matt Tennyson (or, if the Devils are high on what Tennyson has brought, one of Carrick and Mueller). If the Devils do keep Smith around, I feel like they would go with 8 defensemen as an insurance policy to avoid getting in a jam if someone is claimed off waivers and Smith ultimately proves himself not ready for the NHL spotlight. So if Smith does stay, that means one of the forwards listed goes.
The forwards left without a more-or-less locked-in roster spot (and in spite of a miserable preseason, I’m not going to put Miles Wood in this group) are Boqvist, Rooney, and Hayden. The argument against Hayden getting cut that I’ve seen is that the Devils just traded for him and like his grit. I think there is maybe a little merit there, but I also think the won’t hesitate to waive him if they feel it gives them the best roster. His trade counterpart, John Quennevile, has already been waived in Chicago, after all. The other non-Boqvist candidate is Kevin Rooney, and I think he has a shot only because he has proven to be a solid penalty killer and had a decent-ish season as a called up 4th line center last year. His preseason has not gone so hot, though, so I think he could be the guy on the chopping block if the Devils go 13F. At the very least, I don’t really see a good argument that the roster is better off with him over Boqvist, but the penalty kill factor is the one thing that gives me pause (Boqvist did not see any PK minutes in preseason, for what it’s worth).
Overall, I think at this point, it would be more of surprise if Boqvist didn’t make it than if he did. If I had to throw a number at it, it feels like his chances of making it sit around 80%. I think Ty Smith remains a tossup with Tennyson probably most likely to hit waivers on defense. At forward, Rooney stands out as the most likely cut there if the team cuts down the number to 13. In short, I think Boqvist has done enough to show he is ready and should hopefully be in the opening night lineup a week from now.