It’s been a long journey for 24-year old center Jacob Josefson to get where he is today. Since he was selected 20th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, his professional career was filled with discouraging and downright frustrating obstacles from injuries, his standing on the team’s depth chart, and concerns he was rushed to the NHL, which had irreparable ramifications on his development.
He very well could have followed the same path that fellow Swede (and draft bust) Mattias Tedenby took, but has been on an upswing since his strong second half last season. If his play last year and the beginning of this year is any indication, it appears that Josefson’s adversarial tribulations may be behind him.
Head Coach John Hynes took an immediate interest in the Stockholm, Sweden native and saw something in him that was repeatedly overlooked by the coaching staffs Josefson previously played for. After a promising showing in the preseason, the young center appears to have finally established himself as a regular on the Devils roster. He’s still looking for his first goal and has four assists in 14 games, two of which came on the power play.
Josefson currently plays just under 16 minutes of ice time per game. He’s among the five most-played forwards on the power play and penalty kill, averaging over a combined four minutes of special teams play each game. Despite his sluggish production, Josefson has been one of Coach Hynes’ most utilized forwards.
Josefson’s turnaround coincided with last year’s midseason coaching change. In his first 25 games before Pete DeBoer’s dismissal, he only had one goal and three points. He played under 13 minutes in 14 of those games. In the 37 contests he played under the coaching regime that finished out last season, Josefson had five goals and nine points. He played in 17 games (12 of which were between December and March) where his ice time was below 13 minutes. Granted it’s not much to brag about, Josefson would have been projected to tally 11 goals and 20 points if he maintained that pace over an 82-game season.
Those numbers would have stood out on last year’s goal-starved team, and the way Josefson finished out last season should provide some reassurance that the goals will eventually come for Josefson.
It’s worth noting how over the course of Josefson’s first four seasons (118 games played), he compiled totals of seven goals and 25 points, mostly being relegated to bottom-six minutes, where he was scarcely used in special team situations. Josefson stood out in every AHL stint of his between 2010 and 2013. He played in a combined 60 games where he had 15 goals, 40 points, and a 17% shooting percentage. Despite how Josefson’s time in the AHL derived from NHL demotions, his numbers are reflective of the untapped potential the young center contains.
While it’s taken Josefson longer than expected to earn a regular playing spot on the Devils, there’s still plenty of room for the young Swede to grow. He’s currently penciled in as the No. 3 center on the Devils’ depth chart behind Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique. If Josefson can maintain a consistent rate of offensive production, he’s capable of moving up a notch or two on the center depth chart or could establish a third scoring line on the Devils, which a lot of teams are incorporating in their offensive lineups.
Since Henrique and Zajac are locked into lengthy contracts and emerging youngsters like John Quenneville, Pavel Zacha, and Joe Blandisi are close to competing for roster spots, the challenge for Josefson is to build on the promising start he’s had this year and move towards establishing himself as an essentiality for the Devils instead of an expendability to make room for future up and comers. Josefson clearly plays his best hockey at center and is capable of benefiting this team when he’s given a more defined role and a chunk of ice time to play it. In what’s shaping out to be Josefson’s first full pro season as an NHLer, only he has the ability to take full advantage of the opportunity Coach Hynes has given him that prior coaches wouldn’t or couldn’t give.