Early in this season, the New Jersey Devils have found themselves to be one of the best offensive teams in the league. In fact, after the Edmonton game, they were sitting at 5th in the NHL with 3.33 Goals For per 60 minutes. It is early, and a lot can change, but when an offense is humming like that, it usually means that the forward roster from top to bottom is doing its job and is playing at a high level.
Nonetheless, with the injury to Ondrej Palat, it has opened the door for more playing time for some of the other guys who otherwise were sitting in the box watching or who could’ve potentially been sent down to Utica. The name most people have been discussing, and rightfully so, has been Fabian Zetterlund. He has made the most of his 6 games so far in New Jersey, and he looks like he could be a strong complementary piece for this offense, and you definitely would not hear me complain if we see him get more consistent ice time in the near future.
However, another name that has been making a case for more playing time has been Jesper Boqvist. Boqvist has had kind of an interesting career arc so far. He went from a highly touted second round prospect that people believed had worlds of potential, to someone that underperformed those standards for a couple of years, to the point that those same people now believed he could just be an AHLer or maybe a fourth liner at best. So far this year, however, he has put up strong underlying numbers almost whenever he has been given ice time, and that could lead to more time for him as well as Zetterlund, or even perhaps in place of him depending on how things go.
First, let’s check out the overall numbers. While the Devils have played in 11 games so far, Boqvist has only dressed for 5 of them, so the sample size is indeed smaller. However, the 5v5 numbers in those games are good, check them out from Natural Stat Trick:
Among all Devils skaters, regardless of time on ice, he ranks first in possession and second in expected Goals. Those are very impressive numbers. Now, to be said, he has been somewhat sheltered. He has the third highest offensive zone faceoff percentage on the team right now, behind only Jack Hughes and Kevin Bahl, so there is something to be said about that. However, just because you are in the offensive zone initially does not mean much unless you execute and get pucks on net, and keep the pressure on. He has been tasked with doing that, and he has not only succeeded, but from these numbers, he has thrived.
What got me to write this was his successful play against Edmonton Thursday night, so I also want to highlight that specific game, as his numbers do shine. In just over 9 minutes of 5v5 ice time, he had 19 Corsi events for to only 8 events against for a CF% of 70.37%. This led the team in that category. This translated into some high expected goals, third best on the team and 5th best in the game. Check out the expected goals chart from that game thanks to MoneyPuck:
On the Devils, only Nico Hischier and Tomas Tatar were expected to have a better GF% than Boqvist, and only two Edmonton players were higher as well. And again, this is coming from someone who got the third least minutes at 5v5 among all Devils skaters, McLeod and Bastian being the only two to have fewer minutes than him.
And if you think he was carried, check out his WOWY numbers from that game thanks to the full report from Natutal Stat Trick. He played on a line with Dawson Mercer and Yegor Sharangovitch, and when he was with them, he had a CF% of around 55%. They played well together, a very solid game, and nothing to complain about. But without them, Boqvist was over 90% in possession, playing for a little time with Nico and Jesper Bratt and absolutely dominating with them. In the 2:25 Nico and Boqvist were together Thursday night, they had 8 Corsi events for and 0 against, and it was 7 for and 0 against with Bratt. That is absolutely wild stuff.
Now, of course, the main argument against him at this point is that through 5 games, he has only 1 assist and 0 goals. So while the underlying numbers are fantastic, he has not turned those into tangible points that help the team win games. This is a legitimate gripe, and it is something that he will need to correct. He can have a killer possession game and dominant xGF numbers, but if those do not translate into points on the board at some point, he will lose his spot to Zetterlund, Alexander Holtz, or someone else. However, I think that so far, given his underlying numbers, he has earned some more playing time and some more chances to play quality 5 on 5 minutes. If he has more games as he did against Edmonton, good things are going to happen, that’s for sure.