The New Jersey Devils had a flurry of activity yesterday that involved two signings and a player filing for salary arbitration. General manager Ray Shero signed forward Luke Gazdic to a one-year two-way contract, while restricted free agent Kyle Palmieri opted to file for arbitration, which ultimately keeps him from interacting with other teams, and gives both sides an uninterrupted timeframe to continue talks. Last we heard, the two sides agreed on salary, but hit a snag on the new deal’s length. I wouldn’t start stressing on Palmieri’s contract status just yet, and I’m confident a deal will get done before hearings begin on July 20th.
The most noteworthy of New Jersey’s transactions yesterday was the re-signing of center Jacob Josefson to a one-year $1.1 million contract. He was used without prejudice by the coaching staff for the first time in his six-year NHL career last season, mostly as the team’s No. 3 center, plus a regular spot on the top power play unit. Josefson didn’t have the breakout season that everyone hoped for, but made considerable progress, despite taking 25 games to score his first goal of the season. In 58 contests, Josefson tallied four goals and 14 points. He went minus 21 for the year, and had a 48.43% face-off win percentage. Josefson averaged 15:31 of ice time per game, which was third among Devils centers. He was used occasionally on both the penalty kill, and played a very effective half-wall on the power play.
Josefson’s numbers don’t seem like much at first glance. The upside his game contains becomes very apparent upon taking a closer look at how Josefson’s numbers break down. He had a profound role in the success of New Jersey’s power play, whose fragility was exploited in the 28 games Josefson wasn’t in the lineup. The Devils went 22.5% on the power play in games Josefson played, and 11.2% in games without him. Although Josefson only tallied 14 points last year, three out of his four goals and 11 out of those 14 points came on the power play, which isn’t a coincidence.
The re-signing of Josefson gives the Devils four centers under one-way contracts on their depth chart going into training camp. Bearing any unforeseen transactions that add or negate from that part of the roster, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac will likely be center New Jersey’s first and second lines, while Josefson and Fiddler are poised to center the third and fourth units. Josefson will certainly get ample power play time back on the half-wall, where he will have a new passing outlet in Taylor Hall, along with last season’s power play finishers like Palmieri, Henrique, and (when healthy) Cammalleri. Regardless of who Josefson’s line mates wind up being, they’re primed to be considerable improvements over the wingers he played with throughout last season.
This isn’t to say that Josefson isn’t subject to making his own improvements on his own game. Josefson is a speedy forward, but his finishing abilities leave a lot to be desires. Josefson’s 4.7% shot percentage was one of the lowest among Devils forwards with at least 30 games played, and his 86 shots (1.5 shots per game) were 7th-most. Granted Josefson is largely more of a playmaker, his shot numbers (namely in five-on-five situations) is one part of his game where he needs the most improvement. Although his 48.4% performance in the face-off dot was second-best on the team, it testifies to how gravely the Devils struggled in that category last season. Josefson took the fourth-most face-offs (667) out of New Jersey’s centers, only trailing Stephen Gionta by 24. Josefson won the third-most face-offs on the team and only lost 21 more out of his seasonal totals. He’s gone 49% in face-offs his entire career, and could help the Devils immensely in that category if he improves, along with Travis Zajac’s face-off prowess and the skill Vernon Fiddler will add there.