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New Jersey Devils RFA Profile: Jesper Boqvist

From one Jesper B yesterday to the other today, we look at New Jersey Devils RFA Jesper Boqvist. This post will look at what the Devils could choose to do with him and if he is a long-term piece or not.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Seattle Kraken Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

I’d like to start today by welcoming all of you readers to Jesper Day Two in our summer free agency series. While Jared profiled the one whose future is more well known in Bratt yesterday, today I’m going to be looking at the one who is more on the cusp for the New Jersey Devils in Boqvist. Boqvist has had an up and down time in his NHL tenure to this point, however he posted his best season to date in 2021-22. Additionally, he became a true regular in the lineup from late December on, and arguably for the first time looked like he belonged at the NHL level. He’s certainly no Jesper Bratt, but that latter stretch from last season begs the question: What exactly should the Devils do with Jesper #2?

Who is Jesper Boqvist?

Boqvist is the most recent draftee out of the four players that Jared and I have profiled so far in this series, with him being selected in 2017 as a high second round choice (36th overall) by the Devils. He would sign his entry level deal on June 10, 2019 and wound up making the roster out of training camp for 2019-20. That season as well as the pandemic shortened 2021 season saw Boqvist bounce around between the NHL and AHL clubs, and while he did spend a short period of time there in 2021-22, he made his home at the NHL level for most of this past season.

As Boqvist is a more recent draft selection than the others we’ve profiled so far, he has only signed one contract with the organizations to date. With his ELC expiring at the conclusion of this past season, Boqvist is an RFA, but unlike the other three players we have profiled so far, Jesper the Second does not have rights to arbitration. That means unless the Devils decide to outright release him (which they won’t), he has limited leverage in negotiating his next deal.

What Has Boqvist Done as a Devil

As I mentioned briefly above, Boqvist had his ups and downs during his first pair of season with the Devils organization. His rookie campaign saw him contribute just four goals in 35 contests; he fared slightly better with the Binghamton Devils that season, posting 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in the 19 games he appeared in. In 2021, he would equal his goal output from 2019-20 in fewer games (28) while also adding three assists. With that season being shortened and the NHL allowing teams to also have taxi squads, Boqvist would only appear in eight contests for Binghamton, but would be almost a point per game with two goals and five helpers.

With point per game totals of 0.11 and 0.25 in his first two seasons at the NHL level, 2021-22 was a big step up and in the right directions for the 23 year old forward. Contributing 10 goals and 13 assists over 56 games, Boqvist’s 0.41 PPG pace isn’t setting the league ablaze, but did help to solidify him as an every night player for the Devils.

Courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com

In terms of advanced stats (provided here courtesy of Natural Stat Trick), his numbers jumped up with increased usage last season as well. Some of this could be attributed to his increased offensive zone starts, but a lot of it should be attributed to his growth as a player. Boqvist didn’t necessarily get a bump in the quality of his line mates for most of his time in the NHL last season, meaning he has grown as a player. The question becomes how much untapped potential does he have left, if any?

What Will Boqvist do Going Forward?

The above question really becomes the driving factor in terms of Boqvist’s salary going forward, his usage/utility on the Devils and even if he has a long-term future with the club or not. While the contract he receives for this season will be based on what he has done so far, the way the team deploys him and whether he’s around for a while or not are going to largely be determined by the next season or two.

Boqvist last season demonstrated that he could be a nice complementary piece for the Devils. On a team that already has Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt up front as major pieces, the Devils right now need more secondary contributors. If Boqvist can grow his last season into roughly 15-20 goals and roughly 40 points overall across an 82 game pace, he would be an invaluable piece in the Devils’ Bottom-6. His shooting percentage is sustainable at 13.5%, so if Boqvist can up the amount of shots he takes per game, getting to 15-20 goals in a season is entirely possible.

The Devils also need to decide where he will be deployed going forward; Hischier and Hughes occupy the top two center spots, while Bratt and Yegor Sharangovich are definite among Top-6 wings. Beyond that, figuring out where Dawson Mercer slots into the lineup (as either a Top-6 Wing or third line center) will affect where Boqvist is used. This isn’t to say Jesper will be placed in a Top-6 wing role, but rather that he could see himself as a third line wing if Mercer shifts back to center next season.

Who Are His Comparables and What is His Value?

Comparables are a bit harder to come by when we’re in first contract to second situations, as it seems like those can vary widely depending upon how fast players reach their potential. Some players like the aforementioned Jack Hughes go from entry level to $8 million per season. Other players have to segue into a slightly higher bracket, or, in some cases, a slightly lower one.

Take for example Isac Lundestrom of the Anaheim Ducks; his first contract saw him play less games than Boqvist (only 71) and his production was quite a bit lower (15 points) across that span. He wound up going from a three year entry deal at $925,000 per season to a one year deal for just under $875,000. While I don’t think Boqvist goes in this direction due to the uptick he had in 2021-22, Lundestrom should serve as a reminder that this does happen at times. With the similar PPG pace of both players last season (Lundestrom at 0.36), both could see similar raises this offseason.

Another second deal that saw a slight dip would be that of Blake Lizotte of the Los Angeles Kings. This was a similar “ELC to one year deal” as Lundestrom, but Lizotte would only get $800,000 on his. He produced 24 points in 70 games (a worse pace than Boqvist) yet was re-signed during the season (late March) to a two year contract with an AAV of $1,675,000. It will be interesting to see if Lizotte grows his production at all, as he’s been pretty consistent in terms of his PPG across the first three years he appeared for the Kings. I could see the Devils going modest raise like this for Jesper as sort of a “prove it” deal.

We can even take a trip back to last week and look at Miles Wood’s second deal as a comparable for Boqvist. Wood had played 137 NHL games when he signed that second contract (18 more than Boqvist to date) and recorded 49 points (15 more than Boqvist) during that time. Wood was rewarded with a four year deal with a cap hit of $2.75 million per season. What also needs to be remembered though is that Wood was coming off of an almost 20 goal season and brought physicality and other attributes. While Boqvist has proven to be a good defender, he does not have anything standing out in his track record that merits this large of a raise at this time.

What Would I Do and What Do I Think the Devils Will Do

I think we’re looking at a bridge deal here, which probably comes as no surprise to anyone who is reading this. I also could see this going the way of the Lizotte contract, where Boqvist gets a modest bump in salary because he is contributing more to the team. I don’t see him getting to the salary bump that a contract like Wood’s second deal, because, as mentioned above, Wood had proven a bit more over the shorter time frame while also bringing more intangibles to the table.

I do think the Devils are still evaluating Boqvist a bit as well; perhaps due to his draft position, or due to his skill set or maybe even a combination of both, I think the team has expected him to be a larger contributor than he has proven to be so far. The length of this deal will be interesting, as Jesper is still a few years away from unrestricted free agency, meaning that not only is there still team control, but still a decent chunk of time in which the Devils can determine whether he’s part of a winning formula or not.

I will say that while he’s not as proficient at faceoffs, I still appreciate the skill that Boqvist brings over some players such as Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and even Jimmy Vesey. Jesper was more consistent last season, and was being relied on more by the team as they had players go down to injury. I think the team (and maybe even the fans) expect a jump from him this coming season; if he continues to grow in 2022-23, he’ll probably reap the rewards on his next contract whereas if he stagnates, he might not even be signing his next contract with the Devils.

As per a hard numbers prediction, I’m going two years at $2 million per season. I think this is a fair bump considering the comparables and other situations around the league, while also not locking the Devils in for long if Boqvist does stagnate or even regresses from last season. While I think that’s what the team would do, that’s also how I would handle the situation if I were in their shoes. The deal gives Jesper his raise while maintaining roster/trade/salary flexibility for the team - that’s a win-win to me.

Final Thoughts

Boqvist doesn’t meet the qualifications needed to be called a “core piece” for the New Jersey Devils, however he has at least an immediate future with the team and there’s still potential and room for growth. 2022-23 could be a make or break situation for Jesper, as the team is going to have more forwards coming in competing for spots, and the team could also be looking to add players in free agency. If Boqvist doesn’t make a jump in terms of play and production, he could soon find himself looking for a new team.. If he continues to trend as he did last season though, he should be an important secondary piece for the Devils going forward.

What do you think the Devils should do with Jesper Boqvist? Is two years at $2 million per too much, too little or just right? Do you think he remains a Devil after the contract he signs this summer or do you think the team will move on from him for one reason or another? Is 15-20 goals and 40 points too much to expect from him? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!