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An Improved Boqvist Really Strengthens This Lineup

There were times this year where the Devils really struggled to put together a viable third line, and the team struggled as a result. Now, with Jesper Boqvist playing well, that weakness has turned into a strength.

Minnesota Wild v New Jersey Devils Photo by Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

For much of this season, the New Jersey Devils were somewhat shallow in terms of the forward lines that they ran out. The top two lines were very strong, but beyond that, there were some struggles. The BMW line mainly held the fourth line down, but the third line changed constantly, and the production from that line was poor for long stretches of the season. This was most prevalent when Ondrej Palat was injured and Timo Meier was not here yet; at times, Lindy Ruff and Co. were moving people like Fabian Zetterlund up to top 6 duties in order to try and strengthen a weak third line by throwing Dawson Mercer there, and you’d see a line of Mercer-Alexander Holtz-Yegor Sharangovitch just get crushed.

Now, with Palat and Meier in the lineup and healthy, things are absolutely changed. The coaching staff can put more talented players on the third line, like Ondrej Palat or even Tomas Tatar. However, that only runs so far. On Tuesday against Minnesota, for example, both Palat and Tatar played on the third line while Erik Haula and Dawson Mercer were kept together with Jack Hughes for that dynamic line that has worked well. That is awesome, and those guys can more than likely win against the opposition’s third line. But a line is made up of three forwards, so there has to be someone playing with them. And if that player is bad, it drags down the other two and can prevent them from pushing play forward.

That is where Jesper Boqvist has come in recently, and his strong play since the arrival of Meier has allowed the Devils to run out a really strong third line since then. Just look at the Minnesota game on Tuesday night. Here are the on ice expected goals for and against for all four lines from that game, thanks to MoneyPuck:

That third line absolutely dominated. They had by far the best on-ice expected goals for, and by far the best on-ice expected goals against. Just total domination against the opposition when they were out there. And, if you were wondering, it was not Boqvist getting carried by the other two. In fact, you could argue that Boqvist was the best one of the three out there. Again, according to MoneyPuck, Palat had an expected goals percentage of 61.58%, Tatar was expected to be at 64.42%, and Boqvist was expected to be at 71.89%. That number for Boqvist was the best individual expected goal percentage in the entire game, on either side. So he was not carried by the other two. By all accounts, he was the best of the three on the ice during that game.

Having a full, solid three lines is an incredible benefit for a playoff team. It allows Lindy Ruff to confidently roll out three lines for normal minutes in playoff games, which keeps the top 6 fresher as the team gets deeper and deeper into the playoffs. If he has to mostly rely on two lines only from the beginning, guys like Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier will be playing a ton of minutes, especially late in games as the bench shrinks. That is to be expected no matter what, but with three full lines, it will lower his minutes overall per game.

For a team looking to not only make the playoffs but win some series and really make a push, having three lines you can rely on is incredible. Of course, this doesn’t mention the role the fourth line plays, but that has its own value that is sort of different. Michael McLeod will be on for faceoffs, and they will play defense and look to change the energy of the game. But the third line can function in a similar role to the top two lines, and that is amazing. Jesper Boqvist could make that happen with his continued positive play, and let’s hope that he does.