Two of, if not the two, most important forwards for the New Jersey Devils currently are Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes. Arguably the two most dynamic scorers on the team, both had breakout seasons last year, even with Hughes missing almost half of the season battling injuries. For the Devils to continue to succeed, it will be important to have secondary scoring supporting these two (and the other star players) but both Bratt and Hughes can’t rest on their laurels either. If the Devils are going to take the next step, both of these players need to continue to grow.
Which makes the recent NHL.com fantasy projection for each of these players so baffling. I understand from the outset of the article that it states it’s a collaborative effort of two writers, but it still seems that neither watched the Devils last season, despite using accurate numbers. What also confused me was their prediction that Ondrej Palat will set a new career high in points with 55 if he plays all 82 games. While I would love for that to be the case, I don’t know if that happens in a season where a player adjusts to his new team.
Now back to the subject of this article, I will give credit where it is due, as they did project an increase in production for Jack. However, we’re talking about a player who posted 56 points in his 49 appearances (1.14 points per game as they mention) and looked like the most dangerous Devil in most if not all of those 49 contests. Yet the NHL.com staff predicts Hughes to post 77 if he appears in all 82 games; am I the only one who feels that’s a low estimate? His points per game from last season paced across 82 comes out to roughly 94 points, and the Devils were not a good team last season. They think Jack’s PPG is going to drop with an improved team and in a healthy season? I just don’t see that happening, especially not the 17 point difference in his 2021-22 pace versus their estimate.
Similarly, Jesper Bratt just had a breakout year of 73 points in 76 games in what was a contract year for him. Well after signing a one year deal, Bratt is once again playing in a contract year where he is going to be looking to maximize his earnings. NHL.com projects that if he plays in six more games this season, he will wind up with nine fewer points than last season? Outside motivating factors aside, Bratt looked as though he had figured out how to fit all of the tools in the toolbox while also maximizing usage of said tools last season. And so again, we expect Jack and Jesper to play a full season, possibly on the same line and see their totals DECREASE? That just seems as though both players are being undervalued.
Speaking of the two playing together, that leads to one more factor that I believe plays a part in point total estimates: match-ups. Nico Hischier is the center who plays the tough minutes against opposing top lines due to his defensive skill set. This should leave Hughes’ line free to play (and score) against lesser competition, especially at home when they have the last line change. If the Devils maximize what they have available, Hughes and Bratt should increase their scoring, Nico could post similar totals to what he did in 2021-22 and the Devils could still be a greatly improved team overall.
Based on what we saw in 2021-22, I think that anything less than 90 points from Hughes if he appears in all 82 games is a disappointment. This would put him at a slightly lower point per game pace from last season, but I still think this is a fairer assessment of his talent and where he could/should be in 2022-23. Similarly for Bratt, I think anything less than 75 in 82 would be disappointing; he’s shown that he has the ability to do it, and again I think knowing this season could secure him a lucrative long-term deal will motivate him to exceed his total from last year. I respect NHL.com fantasy staff’s recognition of the value of both players, but I think their assessment of both is an undervaluation due to the direction in which their careers are trending.
What are your thoughts on the NHL.com fantasy predictions for Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt? Do you think my estimates are closer to your expectations if both appear in all 82 games, or is their fantasy staff closer? Is this in your opinion another example of Devils’ talent being underrated, or have I set my expectations too high? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!