In a season of mixed results thus far for the New Jersey Devils, there have been a few notable bright spots that have stood out. We have seen the emergence of Dawson Mercer as an impact center as a rookie, the arrival and subsequent cornerstone-defenseman-level performance from Dougie Hamilton, and the resurgence of Andreas Johnsson after a difficult 2020-21 season. Today, I’d like to focus on the performance of one Jesper Bratt, the 6th round diamond-in-the-rough and intermittently-maligned-among-Devils-coaches winger that just so happens to look like perhaps the best forward on this entire team right now.
We’ll start with a few baseline facts in support of this premise (all via Natural Stat Trick). Through December 9th for this season:
- Jesper Bratt is the Devils’ leader in overall scoring
- Jesper Bratt leads the Devils in individual 5v5 points rate
- Jesper Bratt leads the Devils in 5v5 shooting rate
- Jesper Bratt is blowing his teammates completely out of the water in 5v5 individual expected goals per 60 (20% higher rate than the next highest Devil [Johnsson])
- Jesper Bratt has the highest on-ice 5v5 xG% on the Devils
- Jesper Bratt is second in on-ice 5v5 goals percentage
- Jesper Bratt has the highest on-ice xGF rate on the power play
Now, Bratt happens to have played a bunch of his minutes on the Devils’ most successful line (with Johnsson and Mercer), but he is clearly a big part of that success to this point, given that he is the overall leader in on-ice shot/expected goal shares and has with-or-without-you (WOWY) numbers that show essentially a universal benefit for everyone that steps on the ice with him. A WOWY chart for Bratt shows just the kind of success everyone seems to have when they are playing alongside the dynamic winger (keep in mind that up and to the right is good and down and to the left is bad in this chart).
Nobody suffers when they are on the ice with Bratt. Part of that could be tied up in deployment, with Bratt having a shade over 60% of his zone starts in the offensive end, but both of his most common linemates get even more shelter by that metric and still show substantial improvements in on-ice numbers with Bratt. Further, even with the raw numbers looking somewhat sheltered, Bratt is actually close to the middle of the pack in deployment, given how many defensive zone starts are heaped on the fourth line and, to a lesser extent, Nico Hischier.
His isolated xG impact map from Micah McCurdy’s HockeyViz reflects the level of positive impact he has on the ice, but my sense is that this may even underrate him (at least on offense), given how successful everyone coincidentally seems to be when Bratt is playing. Below the isolated heat map, you can see heat maps of what the Devils’ 5v5 offense looks like when Bratt is on the ice versus when he is not, and the difference, while certainly not all linked to Bratt’s presence, is still borderline comical.
With Bratt on the ice, the Devils are hammering goaltenders from the high-slot in. Without Bratt, on average, they are firing from the points and praying. Again, I don’t know if that can all be attributed to Bratt, but watching this team, it is very clear that he is bringing a different element to these games. Especially since he ran afoul of Lindy Ruff and co. and got benched for a period in a game in late October, he looks like a player thinking the game multiple levels above the players attempting to defend him and he’s utilizing his speed and agility to constantly put teams on their heels. He carries the puck as well as any player on the Devils (consistently landing among the team leaders in entries and shot contributions in Corey Sznajder’s All Three Zones tracking project) and he’s constantly finding an exploiting seams in opposing defenses.
For more agreement on this front, we go to some numbers from Evolving Hockey, where his RAPM (a measure of impacts on shots and expected goals), puts him among the league’s elite in his impact on expected goals for the Devils. From the same source, his expected goals above replacement lands him second among forwards behind the red-hot Andreas Johnsson.
Whether you are just watching these games unfold on your couch or digging deep into the various stats, there is wide agreement on the topic of Jesper Bratt this season. He is bringing it in all facets of the game and if the Devils were smart, they’d go ahead and lock him down soon before he drops a 75-point season in their lap ahead of RFA contract negotiations. Arguably, Bratt has been a highly effective player operating under the radar for the Devils for a while, but with him taking it to another level (and because it always colors our perceptions, lighting up the scoresheet in particular) so far this season, I think more and more people are starting to understand just how good of a player Bratt is. If he continues to play at the level he has found this season, he will put himself among the most crucial parts of this team going forward. The Devils were banking on breakouts from a number of their players this season and in Jesper Bratt, they certainly have one.