The Devils haven’t exactly done right by top prospect Jesper Boqvist this past season. Boqvist has gotten a better NHL tryout than most prospects at 35 games in the big league this season and 19 in the AHL, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing and 35 straight games. Boqvist spent much of his call-up time in New Jersey in the press box, watching games and theoretically learning and discussing strategy with the legendary Patrik Elias. He played in two of the team’s ten games in October, ten days apart. He played a bit more in November, 9 of 15 games, but again some of his games were a week apart. December was a good consistent month for him as he played in all but one game against the Blue Jackets. Come January, Boqvist played in 9 games straight, then was sent down to the AHL for the bye week and seemingly forgotten about— he wouldn’t be recalled again until February 29th. He played one game with the Devils on March 3rd in a 3-0 loss to Vegas before being sent back down again on March 6th. Long story short, Boqvist has a respectable sample size of games and stats from this past season, but consistency in games played is a factor to consider when assessing his performance, as well as his usage and the quality of his partners. As Chris Wassel of Dobber Prospects put it, “Boqvist just was not used right in New Jersey and it showed. It is hard to have an offensive threat receive fourth-line minutes then expect him to play responsibly on both ends of the ice.”
Boqvist put up a respectable showing in my opinion during most games— working hard, demonstrating good vision and puck skills, but his line pairings did absolutely nothing to help him reach even half his potential. In 35 games, Boqvist found the back of the net 4 times—twice in two games in November when paired with Jack Hughes and Wayne Simmonds, once in December when paired with Michael McLeod and Miles Wood, and once in early January when he tipped in a Vatanen shot on the power play in the waning minutes of a loss to the Colorado Avalanche. He picked up no assists the whole season. He averaged 47.44CF%—about average for the team this season— but a gruesome 23.81GF%. His most common lines were Pavel Zacha and Wayne Simmonds, and Kevin Rooney and John Hayden.
During his brief top pairings with high skill, high intelligence centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes however, he averaged over 60% CF% and scored two of his three 5v5 goals (both with Hughes). Fortunately for Boqvist and Devils fans alike, Hischier and Hughes are far, far, far and away more likely to be regular members of the NJ roster for years to come than Simmonds, Rooney, and Hayden (Zacha tbd). Boqvist’s style is best suited to a support role alongside a strong and talented center in my opinion — he’s explosively fast, he’s creative, he’s happy to battle scrappy in the crease, and he’s as talented a puck mover as he is a shooter. He’s not particularly well known for his defensive responsibility and two-way game like Hischier and he doesn’t have the overwhelming offensive talent to justify the sacrifice of his defensive skills like Hughes, but he’s good enough all around to really compliment either of those two centers, and his stats have shown it. Zacha is a ferociously talented defensive player as well as a strong offensive player in his own right at times, but he doesn’t have the offensive spark on his own to carry another support type player in Boqvist, and Kevin Rooney is an even less offensively exciting version of Zacha, so his lack of success alongside his two most common linemates is hardly concerning.
The Boys to Beat
Boqvist isn’t the only young player looking to make enough of a mark to find himself on the NHL roster alongside the likes of Hischier or Hughes. The Devils prospect pool of forwards is utterly stacked and Boqvist’s competition is as steep as it gets. RW/C Nick Merkley looked great in his few trial games last season and made a strong case for himself when he slotted into the top line in Binghamton after the trade from Arizona. Tyce Thompson shot up the draft rankings last season when he put up 25 points in 42 games despite going undrafted in his first year eligible. The Devils took a chance on him in the 4th round of this past season’s draft, and its beginning to look like that chance may pay off. Thompson went back to Providence and packed on an impressive 44 points in 34 games, the 4th best total and 7th best ppg in the NCAA. It was originally expected he would go back to Providence to continue his development and finish the final season of his college career, but with the uncertainty around college sports even existing this coming school year, those plans may change and we may see him sign an NHL contract earlier than expected.
LW/C Janne Kuokkanen didn’t earn a point in 8 shots at the NHL between Carolina and NJ but his AHL scorecards should absolve anyone of any concern about his scoring abilities— he has a total of 126 points in 164 games in the AHL including 38 points in 48 games with the Charlotte Checkers this season and 6 points in 4 games after coming to Binghamton. Kuokkanen is known for his ability to win puck battles especially in the offensive zone with his speed and good reach at 6’1”, something the Devils have lacked at the NHL level so he’ll be a big contender for a roster spot. Left winger Nolan Foote is an even bigger contender—literally. He’s 6’4”. The powerful forward brings another something to table that the Devils have been lacking in recent years in his huge shot. The only shooter we really have at the NHL level is Kyle Palmieri, which is one of several reasons many Devils fans would lose their voice from screaming shoot every time the Devils would gain the zone, set up the cycle, and then just play keep away until they lost the puck because nobody wants to take the shot. Nolan Foote will take that shot, and it will be an utter blast. His 1.0 PPG in the last two seasons with the Kelowna Rockets including 51 goals proves that pretty well.
Familiar faces like Joey Anderson, Nathan Bastian, and Brett Seney (if the Devils re-sign him) will be in the competition pool as well to try and make a roster spot this coming season. I’d expect Foote and Kuokkanen to be his main competition given their unique attributes they could bring to the Devils, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the experience of Anderson or Bastian win them the spot.
3 Step Guide to Making it to the NHL if you’re Jesper Boqvist
Step 1: Get consistent playing time on 1 line on 1 team
Inconsistent usage and linemates crippled Boqvist’s productivity last season. Issues with his contract with Brynäs prevented him from being sent to the AHL at first, so if they Devils wanted to keep an eye on his development, it had to be in an NHL press box or bounced around the lines. Now he needs to find one line on one team he can develop chemistry with throughout the season. At the end of this past season when Binghamton went on a winning streak he was paired with Mikhail Maltsev and Fabian Zetterlund, both players who are expected to remain in the AHL next season, so he will hopefully be able to rejoin that line and continue to develop what they started to find back in February/March.
Step 2: Produce
Boqvist’s 11 points in 19 games in the AHL is not bad, but its not exactly NHL-roster-qualifying material given the competition. Once he finds himself some stability and chemistry in Binghamton, he should be able to produce much better than that, and the big Devils team will be waiting to see that happen.
Step 3: Show up big next preseason
Boqvist’s development doesn’t need another year analyzing the interior decorating of an NHL press box or speed dating with the team’s bottom 6. He’s a good player and he’s going to be a great player, but what he needs right now is to hone his talents in the AHL this coming season, then be ready to show up, play hard, and make an impact during development camp and preseason games the following year.
Where do you want to see Jesper Boqvist this season? Who should his linemates be? Leave your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading!