When the New Jersey Devils hit the ice for the 2019-20 season, they’re going to have more than their fair share of new faces joining the team. It’s hard to imagine a time in franchise history when the roster of the franchise was changed so much for the better in one offseason. While the ice was thawed at Prudential Center, the team welcomed the likes of first overall pick Jack Hughes, All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban, as well as international star Nikita Gusev.
Another player thought to be making his long-awaited Devils’ debut this season is Jesper Boqvist. The Swedish center was selected in the 2017 Entry Draft, the Devils’ second pick after the first overall selection of Nico Hischier, and has been a prized prospect in their pipeline since then. Boqvist signed an entry-level deal with the team in June of this past year, in anticipation of his North American arrival.
While even the most casual of Devils’ fans know the name Jesper Boqvist and know that he’s going to be good, most don’t know much more about him. That’s the blessing and the curse of hockey being a global sport. The good is that it’s a sport participated in and enjoyed by different cultures around the world, but the bad being that it is difficult to keep track of international prospects. Compare that to football, where before a player is drafted by the Giants or Jets, there’s a plethora of clips from their playing career in the NCAA or combine to show. But the Swedish Hockey League, not so much.
If Devils’ fans ever saw Boqvist anywhere, it most likely would have been during the 2018 World Junior Championship when his team captured a silver medal. Still, that was over a year ago and unless you have the NHL Network you probably didn’t have coverage. For those Devils’ fans who haven’t been keeping dibs on Boqvist while he was in Europe, here’s what you can expect when he makes his anticipated Devils’ debut in 2019.
A Little Review On Boqvist
Unfortunately for me, I haven’t spent much of the past two seasons watching Boqvist. But thanks to the plethora of readily available YouTube videos, as well as scouting reports on Boqvist, I’ve been able to keep myself up to speed. If anyone wants to see this kid in action for themselves, follow the links I embedded to see some of Boqvist’s best work.
He’s a 20-year-old Swedish Center. His size of 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds don’t necessarily look NHL ready, but more on that later. Since 2017, he’s played for Brynas IF against players far older than him and likely to the competition he’d face in the NHL. Being a hockey player runs in his family, as his younger brother Adam was a 2018 draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Hands down what appears to be Boqvist’s greatest strength is his skating. Scouts rave about how he moves on the ice with his manager at Brynas likening him to “a panther” on the ice. Granted, Boqvist’s impressive skating comes on the much larger international ice rinks. We’ll have to have a wait and see on how playing on smaller NHL regulation ice affects his movement and game, but he should be fine.
Boqvist also has an undersized frame for today’s NHL. While his slim figure might be suited for the European style of the game, in the rough and tumble style of the North American game, he’s going to need to build some muscles and have linemates willing to protect him. To his credit, Boqvist admitted he spent this past summer trying to bulk up.
Another strength noticed by scouts and fans alike to Boqvist is his ability to get off shots and score when the front of the net is crowded. In addition to protecting Hughes, people thought the Devils signed Wayne Simmonds to keep the front of the net clear. Meanwhile, a crowded net is no problem for Jesper Boqvist. In fact, that’s where he does some of his best work.
Will He Spend time In The AHL?
Due to the NHL’s agreement with the IIHF, Boqvist can’t be sent to the AHL. For the young forward, it’s either the NHL or going back to his native Sweden for another season at Brynas IF. That’s a decision that will be made fairly quickly for Shero and company.
Barring a catastrophic NHL debut, I doubt Boqvist will be sent back overseas, and neither should you. The Devils willingness to offer him the contract they did shows a determination that they believe he’s ready to take the next step forward. As with any young player, there will be growing pains, so expect that. But just like how they say sharks are born swimming, Boqvist is going to have no choice but to begin swimming in the big show.
Top Six or Bottom Six?
Early predictions on Boqvist had him slotted as a top-nine forward. His impressive performance since then has had him slightly upgraded to a top-six role. Just because that appears to be his ceiling, don’t expect him to be there opening night.
Boqvist is going to start on the Devils’ bottom-six for two reasons. First, the top six is simply too crowded. There’s already the spots reserved for Hischier, Hall, Palmieri, Hughes, and Bratt. While that might look like there are two open spots, those will most likely be filled by the likes of Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds. While Simmonds might not provide top six point production, I can’t see any reason he wouldn’t be paired with Hughes to provide protection for the undersized youngster. While Gusev has yet to prove himself as well, his age and experience in a higher league give him the advantage over the younger Boqvist.
Second, the Devils have a recent, and smart, trend of limiting younger player limits to get them accustomed to the NHL. NJ.com pointed to the example of Hischier beginning his rookie season on the second line, even though he was a highly touted first overall pick. While he might not be on the top line, he should see a good amount of power-play minutes as well.
If I had to take an immediate guess, I’d imagine that Boqvist would end up on the same line as Miles Wood. Just like how Hughes might need Simmonds to protect him, Boqvist needs someone to protect his still undersized 20-year-old frame as well. Wood has shown he can have bits of an enforcer and physical player in him, and also resides in the Devils’ bottom six.
Just because I don’t expect Boqvist to begin the season on the top two lines doesn’t mean I don’t think we won’t see him there eventually. If someone on the top six gets injured, Boqvist is more than a worthy candidate for an internal promotion. Perhaps he will also find chemistry with his former teammate, Jesper Bratt, to form a duo that John Hynes wants to keep together. Point being, Boqvist won’t be in the top six until the Devils have a reason to put him in the top six.
Change Of Positions
As I explained before, the Devils’ top six is crowded. Also crowded is the Devils roster full of center men. In addition to the pair of first overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, there’s also the underrated defensive forward Travis Zajac, as well as the still unsigned restricted free agent Pavel Zacha.
While Boqvist is going to have to deal with his fair share of adjustments to the NHL as it is, Hynes and his coaching staff might want to throw another adjustment at him to make. With the Devils’ roster as it sits, moving Boqvist to the role of winger might be beneficial to the team. He spent most, if not all, of his career at the center.
After watching his highlights, the transition to winger might not be as hard as it sounds. While some preseason line predictions have slotted Boqvist as a left-winger, after all, he is a left-hand shot, he seems comfortable entering the zone and shooting the puck from the right-hand side. While it might seem weird to have a left-handed right-winger, he wouldn’t be the only opposite-handed shot on the Devils roster. Remember Nikita Gusev is a left-winger.