On Tuesday night, of all the skaters on the ice for the New Jersey Devils, no one was given less time at 5 on 5 than Jesper Bratt. He was out there for 6:28 at 5 on 5, a little over two full minutes behind the next forward, Frederik Gauthier, and over three and a half minutes behind Janne Kuokkanen, the third-least minutes-getter among forwards on offense. At one point later in the second period, the MSG broadcast noted how he had not been out there at all for the second. He clearly had drawn the ire of the coaching staff and was being benched.
However, I believe that if given proper ice time and a role that is deserving of his abilities, he will almost undoubtedly turn it around, and his underlying numbers are not as atrocious as to be given significantly less time than the likes of Gauthier, no offense to him. When you look at the entirety of the NHL right now, of all forwards who have played at least 50 minutes, Bratt ranks 19th in xGF% at 63.12. That is out of a pool of 353 forwards who have played at least 50 5v5 minutes so far this year. So he is in the top 20 of over 350 forwards right now in xGF, a crazy ranking, belied by a strong 3.55 xGF/60. When he is out there on the ice, the Devils are expected to score plenty of goals, enough to win most games. And this is across 58:13 of 5v5 ice time, so despite the lack of playing time on Tuesday, he has been given enough ice time to make these numbers relevant.
Just to be thorough, check out these numbers from Natural Stat Trick comparing Bratt to other forwards on the Devils who have at least 50 5v5 minutes:
The only Devils forward with a better xGF% is Nico Hischier, no surprise there given how good he has been. But Bratt has a better percentage there than everyone else, never mind how those skaters have produced offensively. Zacha has a strong number at over 61%, and the rookie Mercer is above water at almost 53%, but arguably no one has a more wow-worthy number than Bratt (Nico is almost to be expected at this point, we just know he’s a stud). It’s also worth noting that as a whole, this entire forward corps has been strong at xGF, with only three of them coming in at under 50% at this point in the early going, but even still, Bratt’s relative xGF% sits at 10.66, a crazy good number, especially considering that only four forwards are positive in terms of relative xGF, Hischier, Bratt, Zacha, and Yegor Sharangovitch.
The comparison specifically between Bratt and Sharangovitch at this point is fairly interesting too. Sharangovitch does have three assists at this point while Bratt is pointless, but neither have scored a goal, and producing goals is supposed to be what Sharangovitch is there to do, rather than distribute. Plus, of Yegor’s three assists, only one is a primary assist, so you would think he would be getting some of the coaching staff’s ire as well. However, on Tuesday night, while Bratt was given minimal time, Yegor had 11:24 of ice time at 5 on 5, basically 5 minutes more than Bratt. That seems rather crazy to me. I’m not saying that Sharangovitch should be benched, he is one of those four forwards with a positive relative xGF, but considering both are having trouble producing points despite good underlying numbers, it’s weird that only one of the two is receiving less ice time.
To go beyond xGF, Bratt’s underlying numbers look good elsewhere as well. His CF% ranks third among that list of 10 forwards with 50+ 5v5 minutes, his high danger CF% ranks first on that list at 73.08%, and this is all despite having an offensive zone faceoff percentage of only 41.03%, ranking 4th lowest among those 10 forwards. He has not been sheltered, yet despite it his possession and xGF% numbers have been some of the best among the forward group. Why exactly is he being benched?
Given those underlying numbers, if Lindy Ruff just continues to trot him out there on a top six role, the points will come. He is not going to remain pointless for very long. And even though he has been so far, he has still been a plus contributor on the ice for the Devils, helping to tilt the ice in NJ’s favor despite not getting many offensive zone faceoffs, so that cannot be overlooked. He has played most of his time out there with Hischier and Zacha, and both of them have been better with Bratt out there than without him. Just check out the WOWY numbers. Keep him out there on that line, and good things are going to come for him. Both of the other two have been good, and they can at least partially thank Bratt for that, as he has been a good linemate. I don’t see that changing, and in fact, he should improve as the points start to come.