Among the many interesting decisions that Tom Fitzgerald needs to make about the New Jersey Devils this offseason, in terms of personnel and how to construct the roster next year for even greater success, there will be a lot of discussion about the bottom 6 forwards. The top 6, centered by Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, showed considerable success during the year, even if the wingers surrounding those two guys did change at times. The bottom 6, however, especially the third line, varied. Who played there was constantly changing, and it never really cemented itself as a strong line for this team.
One of those players who saw the majority of his playing time this year on that third line was Jesper Boqvist. As an RFA, the team has control over him currently, and Fitzgerald needs to decide if Boqvist has a spot on this roster for the near future, or if he wants to go in a different direction in hopes of improving that third-line and taking the pressure off of the top 6. The financials will determine a lot of that for sure, so let’s see what he’s done and what he might be worth in his next deal.
Who is Jesper Boqvist?
Hailing from Sweden, Jesper Boqvist is a lighter winger, listed as 6 foot and weighing 181 pounds. It is a body suited for finesse offense, and he has shown this capability over the years. He grew up in the Swedish system, playing his important years before he was drafted into the Brynäs IF organization. He was good enough that he earned himself 16 games for the club in the professional SHL league during his draft-eligible season in 2016-17 to go along with 8 SHL games the year prior, and these greatly helped his draft stock. He only produced 0 goals and 7 assists in those 24 combined games, but they showed that he was capable of playing pro hockey against adults, and this matters when you are 17-18 years old.
It led to Ray Shero and the Devils drafting Boqvist in the 2017 Draft early in the 2nd round, pick 36 overall. Sadly, it was three picks before Dallas took Jason Robertson, so Devils fans might always lament what could’ve been, but getting an NHL regular out of a second-round pick is never a bad thing, and with 189 regular season games under his belt so far, Boqvist has a better chance than most of the rest of the 2nd round picks from that year. He would remain in Sweden for two more seasons, playing almost exclusively in the SHL for Brynäs IF. In 2018-19, the year before he came to the States, he produced 35 points in 51 SHL games, mostly as a 20-year-old. That was indicative of some real positive growth from the winger, and it led to the Devils offering him an ELC, which he signed on June 10, 2019.
What Has Boqvist Done As a Devil?
His ELC would kick in immediately with no years sliding, as he would split the next three seasons between the AHL and NHL as almost like a 13th-forward kind of player, going where he was needed. In fact, he signed and came over to America with the indication that he would get a crack at the NHL lineup, and the Devils were true to that offer, giving him 35 games with New Jersey in 2019-20 versus only 19 with Binghamton.
It was slow growth in terms of point production, however, which is why he was not immediately solidified at the NHL level. In those 35 NHL games in 2019-20, he produced only 4 points total, all of them goals. This was opposed to the 11 points he produced in 19 AHL games, 8 goals, and 3 assists. He was proving that he still had the scoring touch over here, but that it was not quite ready for the NHL yet, he was still on an AHL level mostly.
2020-21 was a disappointing year for Boqvist, as he really did not take a step forward at all on the stat sheet. In 28 games for NJ, he had 7 points, still not translating that scoring potential to the NHL level. He was still excellent in AHL play, with 7 points in 8 games, nearly a point-per-game. He even spent some time in October in Sweden, playing in the SHL on loan from the Devils, where he was successful, with 10 points in 13 games. He was continuing to prove that he could score and produce, but he had been unable to translate that to the NHL.
2021-22 saw him play nearly exclusively in the NHL, albeit still really as that 13th-forward type. He had 56 games for New Jersey versus only 7 for Utica, but he was clearly scratched from a number of games as well given the 82-game slate. But his NHL scoring started to pick up finally, and we started to see some life and the reason he was taken 36th overall. He produced 23 points in those 56 games, 10 of them coming as goals, so the growth was starting to show as his ELC was ending. And that growth was enough to warrant Fitzgerald offering him a 1-year deal as an RFA last offseason, worth just under $875k. Here was his player card from Micah Blake McCurdy at the time of this deal:
And here was his player card from Any & Rono at the same time:
Andy and Rono believed he could be a solid bottom-six forward in the NHL for the 2022-23 season, and he ended up filling that role on a playoff team. He played 70 games in the regular season for NJ on the bottom six, and he played exclusively in the NHL, so that showed growth on that front that he was not sent down at all. However, despite the increased number of games in the regular season, his point total did not improve over the year prior, as he only ended with 21 points in 70 games versus 23 points in 56 games the year prior. His game did improve this past year as per his underlying numbers, enough to warrant him remaining in NJ, but it did not show up on the score sheet.
To see his growth in New Jersey, here are his stats with the Devils thanks to Natural Stat Trick:
As you can see, despite his point totals not increasing in 2022-23, his underlying numbers exploded. His Corsi went up 3.5%, his actual Goals For went up over 11%, and his expected goals went up over 5.5%. He was given slightly more offensive zone faceoffs, but not enough more to warrant the huge jump in these numbers. Now, the Devils were actually good this year versus the prior 3 seasons, and being on a good team with good linemates helps inflate these numbers for sure, but you have to think Boqvist improved at least somewhat as well.
Where he did not play well was the playoffs, where he only saw action in 6 of the Devils’ 12 games. His numbers all around were poor, which you can see is the reason for his benching. That will need to improve if he is back next year and the Devils make it once again.
Projected Impact Moving Forward
At this point, given that he has yet to produce at better than 0.5 points per game in the NHL in any given season, and is well under that number for his career, he projects as a bottom-six guy, at least for his next contract. At 24 years old, he still has some room for growth, and perhaps he shows more of a scoring touch in the next year or two that warrants him a top-6 role, but that is tough to project without having seen it so far. Given the fourth line is meant more as a checking and momentum line, and Boqvist is not physical at all, he really projects as a third liner, which is where he was mostly playing this past season anyway.
The issue with this is that he will need to produce more if he wants to maintain an NHL role. His underlying numbers went up significantly this past season, and that is a strong bonus in his favor and gives him leverage in getting a new contract and getting playing time next year. But as a scoring winger, even on a third line, he will need to produce more than 21 points in 70 games if he wants to keep an NHL roster spot. The good news is that as a fairly cheap RFA, he will have that opportunity. The bad news is that on a team that now has deep playoff expectations, he will not be given a long leash. Every team needs inexpensive role players to fill out the roster, and Boqvist projects as that for his next contract, but that role will involve producing at least close to a half point-per-game, or at least better than 0.3 ppg.
Boqvist has yet to cement himself into any sort of special teams role either. His game is not suited for the penalty kill, but as a winger that plays to score, his game is suited to the power play if he could ever find his scoring touch at the NHL level as he has shown it both in the SHL and AHL. If he can start producing more goals and points, there is a possibility that he starts seeing some time on the second PP unit in the next two years, but that is all contingent on his 5 on 5 point production improving.
Therefore, as I keep alluding to, his projected impact really revolves around his 5v5 scoring. If he can improve that to the levels he was producing in the SHL and AHL, he will become an NHL regular with regular playing time in a middle-six role and perhaps on a second power play unit. If he cannot improve his scoring over the next couple of seasons, however, they might be his last in the NHL.
Comparables and Potential Value
Boqvist is coming off of a one-year bridge deal and his second total, including the ELC. At 24 years old, and as a fringe, 13th-man NHL forward, he really is not in line to get a big enough deal to become a UFA after this next deal. He would need at least a 3-year deal to become a UFA upon this next contract’s expiration. I really do not see Fitzgerald and the Devils offering Boqvist a deal that long, given that they might not want him that long. His ability to remain at the NHL level is strongly contingent on him producing more points while maintaining the better underlying numbers that he showcased this past season. And while he has shown the scoring touch in other professional leagues, there is no guarantee that he will ever be able to translate that to the NHL.
Because of that, I really think if the Devils still want him, Fitzgerald will offer him a shorter deal, either one or two years, that keeps him under team control after the next deal expires. This would provide the Devils with a lot of options. If he does show a scoring touch next year as we all hope, they could then offer him a longer deal after that which eats up some of his UFA seasons. Or, if he can never really figure it out at the NHL level, they can let him walk in a year or two and not feel bad about it. It would be a win-win for the team.
Because of that, when doing a comparables search, I am going to be looking at bottom-six wingers around age 24 that got shorter deals and retained their RFA status after their deal. Boqvist has played in 189 regular season games, so I will also try to find bottom-six forwards with similar games played. The comparables all come from Cap Friendly’s search tool.
Honestly, these should all look fairly similar, as they are all sort of close to the contract that Boqvist just got. He is coming off of a one-year deal worth $874k, and these all kind of fit, even if they are a little higher in the AAV. In fact, when I went through the list on Cap Friendly, one of the comparables was Boqvist’s current contract that just expired. Cap Friendly rated it as an 88.3% match to what I searched.
I also added in Erik Haula from way back in 2015. I did it for a few reasons. First, the contract is a good comparison. Games played are down from what Boqvist has now, but the rest checks out. Haula had 29 points through his first 118 games before that contract, so he was scoring at a similar pace to what Boqvist does now. Next, Haula is the player we all want Boqvist to become. A middle-six scoring winger who is a plus influence on the ice even when not scoring, but can still manage a solid half-point per game on average. So as a player comparable, it’s really good. And finally, there were far fewer comparable contracts in the last 3 years than I expected, and I wanted to add in at least one more deal that fit, so I threw his in.
What this list says is that Boqvist should honestly get qualified and brought back on a similar deal to the one he just had, albeit with a small raise. It isn’t out of the realm for him to get a 2-year deal, Haula and Lizotte got them, but they are the better players on this list, so I also could see just a one-year deal as well. The length, either one-or-two years, depends on how the Devils as an organization feel about Boqvist. Do they see the potential for him to become a player similar to Haula? Do they like where his game is going? Do they see the vastly improved underlying numbers from the regular season, namely his possession and expected goal metrics, and feel he is on a good trajectory? Or do they think he faltered badly at the end of the season there, especially in the playoffs, and that he really has peaked? That will determine whether he is offered the second year or not.
Outside of that, the comparables also say he is looking at a deal that will pay him around $1 million annually. He could make a hair less or a hair more than that, but that seems to be the average. Lizotte was the outlier there, getting $1.675 million after having produced 57 points in 165 games up to that point in his career. No way Boqvist is getting that kind of deal. I also think the term plays into this. If the team is confident in his growth and wants to offer him a second year, they might be willing to go a little over a million per year, maybe $1.05 or so. Or, if they don’t like where his game is going but still want to give him one more chance, they may only offer $950k on a one-year deal, which would send a signal to Jesper that he has one more year to prove it, or else.
What I Would Do and What I Think NJ Will Do
Usually, I think RFAs should almost always be qualified. They usually come with cheap contracts, and with team control, there is little downside. I think that still holds true with Boqvist, but there has to be a caveat thrown in here. The Devils are a good team with expectations now, and they cannot just throw out the exact same lineup and hope for more success. Tom Fitzgerald will need to improve this roster somehow, and the third line seems like the ideal place to make that happen. Because of that, I think Boqvist’s spot on this team is tenuous at best. That throws a wrinkle in what to do with him, because even if you can bring him back on the cheap, if he doesn’t have a place on the roster, then why bother?
Given that, I still think there is a decent chance that Boqvist is qualified, and there are a couple of reasons for that. First, he is young and still has room for growth, especially as an early 2nd rounder who has shown the scoring touch in both the SHL and AHL. He has it in him, and the coaches have to salivate over the idea of bringing that out of him and getting him to score in the NHL. And next, he will be extremely cheap. Every roster needs a 13th or 14th forward, a guy that will play in a decent amount of games because of injury or because of hot/cold streaks, and these guys need to be affordable. Boqvist fits that bill all around. Based on his performance this past year, you can bring him back for potentially less than a million dollars this year to fill that exact role. Combine that with the potential for growth into a regular NHLer, and why not qualify him?
I think there is an outside chance that Boqvist gets a 2-year deal, but I think the likely option is that he gets just another 1-year deal, and if I were the GM, I would only offer 1 year as well. He simply did not produce enough this past year to warrant the second year. I need another prove-it deal out of him this year. Show me you’ve improved, show me the underlying numbers can translate to more points. While I like the improvement in possession and expected goals and whatnot, I need to see points. I would probably try to get him back for 1 year at around $950k, a million at the most. Hopefully, that lights a fire under him and breaks him out of his shell.
What do you think about Jesper Boqvist? Do you like him as a player or are you underwhelmed? What would you do about qualifying him? Would you, and what kind of contract would you offer? Do you see him being on this roster next year? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading!