As training camp continues, and we march towards next Thursday’s season opening game, the New Jersey Devils still find themselves without a notable name: Jesper Bratt. Bratt, who is without a contract and also facing travel issues due to the ongoing pandemic, will certainly miss the opening part of the truncated 2021 season. His absence leaves a large gap at left wing for a Devils team that has spent the past couple of seasons searching for scoring and consistency.
So without Bratt, who steps up? Who seizes one of the top two, if not the top spot on the left side? Who winds up benefitting statistically from Jesper not being present? Today, I look at four names who could see their ice time and point totals increase, and the likelihood of them taking on a Top 6 role.
Most Likely: Andreas Johnsson
The Devils acquired Johnsson over the summer in a trade where they sent Joey Anderson to Toronto in exchange. It was something of a needed move for both teams: the Leafs needed to clear some cap space, while the Devils needed more talent both on the left side and within the Top 6. Clearly, the Devils are viewing him as a Top 6 player, with him skating in training camp with Jack Hughes and Kyle Palmieri so far. It may not wind up being a trio once cuts start or when the entire roster is combined from the current groupings, but it’s clear the Devils value the man they call Mango.
With Bratt unavailable to start the season, Johnsson is primed to have a major role among the team’s left wingers. He will also more than likely see more minutes per game than he did with his former club, so don’t be surprised if Andreas puts together the best season of his young career so far in 2021.
Also Likely: Jesper Boqvist
I struggled for a moment to put Boqvist as my second tier choice due to his rough 2019-20 season, but there were a couple of factors that had me rank him here. First, he has the talent to succeed; he’s shown the promise both in previous preseasons and in the AHL. Results have yet to materialize at the NHL level, but Boqvist just turned 22 this past October; he has plenty of time still to prove himself at the NHL level, particularly this year under a new, more offensive-minded coach. The other reason I rank him here is because his mentality is more suited for a Top 6 role than say a player like Miles Wood; Boqvist is about skill and thinking the game as it happens, whereas Wood is more about grit and dirty goals. Don’t get me wrong, both have their place on an NHL team, I just believe that Boqvist’s skillset would mesh better with the other Top 6 forwards of the Devils.
While he’s not skating as such in camp (at least not as it seems right now), Boqvist could be a good second option in the Top 6. He might find himself there in more of a “prove you belong in this spot” role than a permanent gig, but this could be the “sink or swim” type of situation that helps Boqvist to break out. If he puts it all together, Boqvist could provide some of the goal scoring that the Devils as a whole still desperately need.
Possible: Janne Kuokkanen
The main return in last trade deadline’s Sami Vatanen deal, Kuokkanen is another 22 year old player who the Devils want to see become a key piece of their offense. He looked as though he would get a chance to prove himself in New Jersey this past March, but only got to appear in one game before the NHL had to pause the season. Janne has put up good numbers during his time in the AHL (much like Boqvist) and at the very least, he’s deserving of an extended look at NHL level. He’s another candidate for that “sink or swim” situation, though he has shown some early training camp chemistry with Travis Zajac and Nick Merkley, which could result in him starting his NHL time in more of a third line role.
The encouraging sign for Janne is that he has by all accounts looked good during said training camp. While again the trio he is a part of right now may not be a line to start the season, Kuokkanen could do worse than skating with the team’s best shutdown center and another young winger looking to prove himself. It wouldn’t be Top 6 minutes, but he could use his time in a lesser role to vault himself higher into the lineup.
The Longshot: Nolan Foote
I only list Foote as a longshot here because there are quite a few players ahead of him in terms of experience and additionally he, unlike some of the others, does not require waivers to be sent to the AHL. Foote is a talented prospect, who would bring both size and a cannon of a shot, but having just turned 20 (and also just turned pro) both team and player would probably be better served by seeing him start the season in the AHL. The fact that the Devils don’t need waivers to send him to Binghamton, where he would more than likely receive a large amount of minutes per night to aid his development, just seems like the right move at this juncture.
Foote would need to have one heck of a camp to not only make the roster, but find himself in a Top 6 role for this season. Stranger things, however, have happened in the NHL; we should have a better idea of who will be on the left side for the Devils’ top two lines as we draw closer to January 14th.
With Jesper Bratt still not in New Jersey who do you see stepping up in his absence? Which wingers will start the season in the Top 6? Who do you think will replace at least some of the offense that Bratt brought to the group? How worried are you about the left side without Bratt? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!