Thursday night, it was really good to see Jesper Boqvist back on the scoring sheet. And it was a pretty goal, to go along with a quality shift. If you watch the replay below, Jesper also had a quality chance earlier in the shift, and rang it off the pipe. Then, the Devils would take it away from Philly in the neutral zone, bring it back in, and Boqvist would be set up beautifully by Nick Merkley after the setup pass from Mikhail Maltsev to regain the zone. Boqvist beautifully went across the grain, far side and did not miss. For anyone who might have missed it, people who were dialed in on the NFL Draft instead, here is the goal:
Over the past week, Gerard talked about a positive rookie season from Yegor Sharangovich, and before that I discussed the positives we have seen from Janne Kuokkanen, but one player who had a good amount of hype coming into the season that has not shown the same growth has been Boqvist, a former second round pick back in 2017. With 35 games played last year, and with a fairly open roster heading into the season, there was some expectation and definitely hope that he would gain a lot of experience this year and become more of a NHL regular, certainly surpassing his 4 points he mustered last year.
To that final point, he has improved his point production, even though it was a low bar he had to pass. Through 22 games this season, he has 6 points, 3 goals and 3 assists. On that alone, there is some improvement, and it really is not all negatives for Boqvist. He has shown flashes at times this year, and that shift on Thursday night was one such time. It shows that he has the ability to shine, but he has to start doing it more consistently.
To do that, as the title of this piece indicates, he is going to need something to change for the remaining games of the season. The underlying numbers need to improve in some areas, and that might need to come from him, or it might need to come with better linemates. For example, let’s stick with that game on Thursday night. Boqvist played on the third line with Maltsev and Merkley, and had 11:36 of ice time, over 10 minutes of that with those two linemates. He had no playing time whatsoever outside of 5 on 5 play, and so was not one of those who capitalized on the power play success that was a pleasant surprise. However, on his own from the 5v5, he was a +5.46 in relative Corsi, which was 4th best among forwards. So despite playing on the third line, he was clearly one of the better drivers of play on offense, which is a great sign. However, if you look specifically at the third line, which had 10:12 of ice time together, as a whole they were a -3.48 in relative Corsi, with 6 attempts for and 10 attempts against. So he was clearly the best driver of play on that line, and did the best in his short minute plus without them. It is a small indication that maybe he would have done better with better linemates.
However, the game before that, on Tuesday, the numbers are not the same. He was on a similar line as Thursday, but instead of Merkley on the other wing, he was playing with Nolan Foote. And they only played together for 5:45 of ice time. Boqvist himself had 9:25 of ice time, and the rest of that time when he wasn’t with Foote and Maltsev, he seems to have been mostly with Michael McLeod, as they played nearly 2 minutes together. And overall, Boqvist was the 3rd worst on the team in relative Corsi, and the 2nd worst forward, sitting at -15.58%. He was on the ice for only 4 attempts for versus 10 attempts against. The line he was on was slightly better, but still had a relative Corsi of -9.35%. So whereas Thursday night, he seems to have made his line better, and produced a point, on Tuesday he was dragging down basically everyone he played with, and his relative lack of ice time at under 10 minutes overall speaks to that.
And when it comes down to it, the inconsistency is what will hurt him and prevent him from seeing more ice time and gaining better linemates. Thursday, it is clear that he would have done better with better linemates around him, but Tuesday, he would have dragged down others, and did not deserve even third line minutes. The coaching staff cannot feel justified in putting him in a second line position based on data like that. Plus, it is not like there are many openings above him. You have a top line in Jack Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich, and Janne Kuokkanen that have been playing really well together, producing points and driving play on the ice. The coaching staff has to want to keep them together, for all of their benefits. They should continue to get better the more they play together. And then, you have the second line of Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha. Prior to this season, you would have thought that Boqvist could outplay Zacha and gain those second line minutes, but that is not the way it has played out this season. Zacha is the team’s points leader, and Bratt is right behind him despite having played in fewer games. They aren’t being moved out of the top 6 any time soon.
So in the end, it will be up to Boqvist to show that what he did Thursday night, he can do on a consistent basis, regardless of who he is playing with. Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian have largely gotten fourth line minutes together, but have done well enough to remain in the lineup most nights and get consistent NHL playing time. Boqvist is being given a chance for that as well, and regardless of whether he is with Merkley and Maltsev or others, he needs to show the consistency of success that he produced against Philly the other night. Would better linemates help? Absolutely, they would buffer him when he is struggling, and would help him turn around quickly and get to positive hockey. But right now, he has to show that he can do that on his own. Kuokkanen started the year on the fourth line, and is now locked into the top line this season. Boqvist would do well to match that level of success and growth.