Last year was the definition of a career year for Jesper Bratt. He went from someone we were hopeful was a mid-6, maybe top-6 type of winger into an all pro, and he did it very quickly. He not only quickly endeared himself to fans of the New Jersey Devils, but to analytics gurus as well. Here is his player card from JFresh:
And just so you realize it’s more than just one person, how about from Andy & Rono:
Obviously, he was exceptionally good. However, the interesting thing about it all is that it was just one year. Before that, in 2020-21, he had 30 points in 46 games. Good but not amazing like those player cards showcase. The year prior, 2019-20, he was below average with only 32 points in 60 games played. That was when we were far from sure if he would turn out to be anything more than a Miles Wood, fourth-line type guy.
Now, however, that all seems like it is in the distant past. But it does beg the question: with the relatively small sample size of dominance that we have from him, what kind of growth can we expect from him? He is only 23 years old and can still be improving, for sure. Last year proved that. But how much? We obviously cannot expect another jump like we saw last year. That would put him on par with the best in this entire game. Is it possible? Sure, I wouldn’t count him out. But reasonably, how much more growth can we expect? Or, should we be looking at some sort of regression to the mean?
I think one of the better ways to get an idea of that is to compare his stats to the league last year. So I decided to do that in some areas. Below, you’ll find a table of certain on ice stats for Bratt. Next to his actual numbers, you will see where he ranks in that stat when compared to the rest of the Devils team, and also where he stood when compared to the rest of the league. For this, I used 5v5 stats only and limited the range to players who played at least 500 minutes at 5v5. Last year, there were exactly 600 skaters who played that many minutes, so it was still a large sample. It included forwards and defensemen. Finally, you’ll note that I used relative stats instead of actual stats. I actually have no idea if his rankings were better or worse with the actual numbers, but I went with this because it seems that the team one played for should factor in. Some teams were really good at possession, and some were horrible, for example. And by using relative stats, it takes that into account. All data comes from Natural Stat Trick.
So again, with those league ranks, there were 600 players on this list. In all but one, he cracked the top 100. In fact, he cracked the top 62 in all but one. And in a couple, he was purely dominant league-wide. His relative number for Shots For percentage was out of this world, ranking him 12th in the league. When he was on the ice, the Devils were getting significantly more shots on net than their opponent. And he was also exceptional with expected Goals For, ranking 21st in the entire league, again out of 600 players. It just puts even more into perspective the meteoric rise he had last year.
Further, you can see that he was tops on NJ in just about everything. The only area where other players were better was in high danger, and even then it was a small list. Dougie Hamilton had a better number for high danger Corsi, and both Jack Hughes and Nathan Bastian had better numbers for high danger goals. Otherwise, it was all Bratt. You cannot ask for more from a top-line winger.
That all taken into account, my question is this: where is the room for growth? Yes, there is some, but he rose so high, so fast, that he is already pretty close to the ceiling when compared to the entire league. Getting much better would put him into the “top 10 in the league” type of discussion when talking about wingers. If that does happen, excellent! The Devils can use someone like that for sure. However, what I really wanted to argue was that for this team, he really only needs to duplicate his performance moving forward. If he remains a point-per-game player with amazing possession and xGF numbers, he will make the Devils a lot better when he is on the ice versus when he isn’t. And that is exactly what this team needs, and it would be a bargain at his current contract rate. I mean, even a slight regression with these numbers and he would still be a very good top-line winger, one you want to have on your team.
So in my opinion, let’s hope for growth from Jesper Bratt this year, but be very happy and content with a repeat of what happened last year.