With the New Jersey Devils in the midst of a rebuild, there will be the opportunity for some of the team’s younger players to earn a roster spot and more playing time this coming season. One of those players is Jacob Josefson, who was the Devils’ first round pick in 2009. Josefson has struggled to become a top 6 forward for the Devils and even to get playing time, in large part due to a number of significant injuries that have slowed down his development. If Josefson stays healthy, what could 2015-16 hold for him?
Josefson has largely been a 3rd/4th line center during his time in New Jersey. That said, his possession numbers have been fairly decent. In 2014-15, he was a 50.6% possession player in 60 games played. The next best on the team was Damon Severson at 50.1%, who played a limited number of games due to a broken ankle he suffered in the middle of the season. Considering Josefson’s limited role and New Jersey’s struggle to find consistent puck possession, those numbers are certainly in his favor.
Even though Josefson’s possession numbers are pretty good, the point production has not been there. In 180 career games, Josefson has just 36 points. The only time Josefson has been put into a semi-scoring role was in 2011-12, when he saw 29.5% of his ice time with Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson. Even then, that came in only 41 games played for Jacob due to injury. Other than that, he’s never really been thrust into a top 6 kind of role.
Even though Josefson has had a number of significant injuries that have slowed down his development, he still has not been able to find his scoring touch. The following graph shows Josefson’s individual production since the 2012-13 season.
As you can see, Josefson’s individual production does not even qualify him as a 4th liner. While he’s had decent possession numbers over his career, it has not translated into points.
Even though Josefson has struggled to find his scoring touch, there may be an opportunity for him this season with the new coaching staff. Ray Shero said he’s looking to give younger players, such as Josefson, more of a shot with the team for the upcoming season. And with Head Coach John Hynes looking to make the team more aggressive on the attack, there’s a chance for Josefson to rebound from some tough early years with the Devils. Josefson’s speed is definitely in his favor and could help him to thrive under Hynes’ system.
A lot of that will depend on his role with the team. If Pavel Zacha makes the team and has an extended stay, that will leave the team with five natural centers (Josefson, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Stephen Gionta and Zacha). Patrik Elias could also be put in the mix since he’s seen a lot of minutes at center the last few seasons. If that’s the case, Josefson could find himself in a limited bottom six role again and that would not be doing him any favors. Ray Shero has said he wants to see more of what Jacob has, so I suspect that they will find the right situation that puts him in a position to succeed.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Josefson finds his offensive abilities this season. There have been players in their age 24-25 season that have had break out seasons. One example would be Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators, who had 27 goals and 21 assists in his first full NHL season in 2014-15. Nashville’s Craig Smith also enjoyed a breakout season at age 24, with 24 goals and 28 assists in 2013-14.
Unlike Josefson, Hoffman and Smith had significant and productive time in either Junior, the NCAA, or AHL to help spur their development. Smith was a standout at the University of Wisconsin and had a solid rookie season with Nashville where he put 36 points in 72 games. Hoffman had a longer path than Smith, but he’s certainly earned his way up to the NHL. In his final AHL season in 2013-14, Hoffman had 30 goals and 37 assists for 67 points in just 51 games.
If we compare Josefson’s developmental path to Hoffman and Smith’s, they vary greatly. Josefson had a nice season as an 18-19 year old with Djurgardens IF Stockholm in the SEL, where he had 20 points in 43 games. After that, it was almost straight to the NHL for him. He had a brief stint in the AHL where he had 12 points in 18 games with Albany before joining the NHL club.
In total, Josefson has 40 points in 60 career AHL games (.667 points per game). Compare that to Hoffman who had 169 points in 242 AHL games (.698 points per game). Smith barely had any time in the AHL (just 4 games), but he spent 3 years in the USHL followed by two productive years at the University of Wisconsin.
Every player has a different developmental path to the NHL, but it’s possible – and almost certain – that Josefson may have been rushed into a spot with the Devils. Injuries have also had a huge impact on him and have undoubtedly slowed down his development.
It’s doubtful that Josefson will put up the point totals that Smith and Hoffman did in their age 24-25 seasons. Given the Devils’ current roster, it seems even more unlikely he will. However, if he can chip in around 30 points this upcoming season, that would be a huge step for him. The Devils could use the depth in their bottom six and having a 3rd line center that can contribute steadily like that would be a huge boost to the team and himself.
In order for Josefson to do that, he’ll need linemates that have been successful offensively in the past or that have some offensive upside. That doesn’t mean slotting him onto the 1st line with Mike Cammalleri because he’s not ready for that, but he does need players around him that have some offensive skill.
If we look at the Devils’ roster, there aren’t many players with huge offensive upside. Adam Henrique led the team with 41 points last year, but it seems unlikely at best that Josefson will play on a line with him since they are both natural centers. One potential line combination that could benefit Josefson would be pairing him with Reid Boucher at left wing and Paul Thompson at the right, as they will have speed, scoring talent, two-way play, and also the element of surprise since they are not big-name players. Slotting Tuomo Ruutu on the right wing or Stefan Matteau on the left could also help bring a physical edge with Josefson and another speedy youngster there to supply some scoring opportunities. Both options will be evaluated thoroughly in camp.
Even though Boucher hasn’t lit up the AHL like he did when he was still in the OHL, we know that he is capable of potting lots of goals if he plays in the right system. Matteau and Ruutu may not have the offensive upside of Boucher or Thompson, but they both big bodies, are strong along the boards and can also be a threat on the forecheck. Considering John Hynes is looking to make the team more aggressive on the attack, this would help Josefson.
Not only would a more aggressive system benefit Josefson, but it would benefit the entire line of Matteau/Josefson/Boucher. All three of them are younger players with something to prove. It’s looking like 2015-16 will be a developmental year for a lot of the team’s younger players and pairing these three forwards together could strengthen their development going forward. Having a line like this where there’s the opportunity to create more scoring chances can only benefit Josefson.
Considering Josefson is in the final year of his contract and he’ll be 25 by the time it ends next summer, this is an important year for him if he wants to have a future with the Devils or in the NHL. He’s a former first round pick of the Devils and so far he has not produced like one. He’s going to have to be a steady contributor in some capacity this season. If not, this could be the last season we see Josefson in a Devils uniform.
If he does not have a good year, not only could it be his last season with the Devils, but it could be his last in the NHL for quite some time. As mentioned earlier, he only has 36 points in 180 games. If he doesn’t have some kind of production this season, he won’t be enticing to the Devils or most other NHL clubs next summer.
There’s a couple things that could happen to Josefson if he has another down year in New Jersey. One option is that the Devils could choose to not extend him a qualifying offer, which would make him an unrestricted free agent next summer. If that’s the case, he may not have many NHL suitors considering his production in his career so far.
Another option is that Josefson could choose to return to Sweden or play in the KHL, especially if he and the Devils are not able to agree to terms on a new contract. The Devils could still extend him a qualifying offer to retain his rights, but his career with the Devils would effectively be over. It’s always possible he could return to the NHL after some good years in Europe or Albany, but that’s no guarantee. These reasons are what makes 2015-16 so important for him if he wants to have a long NHL career.
Hopefully this is not the case. Given the right role and with a fresh set of ideas amongst the coaching staff, this could be the year we finally get something from Josefson.