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Coming into camp, there was alot to be excited about for the Devils group of forward prospects. There were former first round picks like Pavel Zacha, Michael McLeod, and of course, first overall pick Nico Hischier. Later round picks such as Blake Speers and Nathan Bastian also came into camp looking to lock down NHL spots. While all of those names occupied the attention of Devils fans, there is one player who’s exceeded the expectations of most.
That would be Jesper Bratt, a sixth round pick of the Devils in 2016. He came into training camp after a strong rookie camp and U20 Summer Showcase for Sweden, and has been one of the Devils most impressive young forwards.
Bratt has excelled in the minutes he’s received. In three of the four games (where data was available) he compiled a 62.8 percent possession line and broke even (at worst), in all preseason games he played. Bratt’s ability at five-on-five resulted in points as he totaled two goals and three assists in four games. While averaging just over a point per game is impressive (even if it’s preseason), it’s how Bratt went about contributing offensively that should catch one’s attention.
Bratt’s offensive prowess has been noticeable through the preseason and it hasn’t necessarily been about making the flashy plays. Let’s take a look at Drew Stafford’s game-winning goal against the Rangers on September 23rd.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) September 24, 2017
Pavel Zacha starts the rush up the ice by feeding the puck to Bratt through the neutral zone. Once Bratt gains the offensive zone on a controlled entry, he has the vision and awareness to find a trailing Drew Stafford, who fires a wrist shot past Henrik Lundqvist. This isn’t a flashy play by Bratt, but shows his on ice awareness and vision. Stafford wasn’t even in Bratt’s line of sight, but he knew where Staff was on the play and fed him a perfect pass into open ice for the goal.
Bratt’s awareness was on display in Prince Edward Island as well, as shown by his set up on John Quenneville’s first goal against Ottawa (First 45 seconds of the video):
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) September 26, 2017
Adam Henrique wins the face-off towards the boards where Jesper Bratt picks up the puck. Before two Senators are able to pounce on Bratt, he makes a quick pass to an open Adam Henrique, who finds an open John Quenneville for his first goal of the preseason. Not only did Bratt show quick decision and play-making ability, he had the awareness to know Adam Henrique was open in the slot, where the two Senators had vacated, so Henrique could make a play himself.
Bratt wasn’t only putting up offense, he was doing the little things well, too. John Hynes trusted him enough to give him valuable time on the penalty kill.
Jesper Bratt is a relentless little bugger. pic.twitter.com/xf5ouRGEZK
— Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell) September 24, 2017
This play won’t show up on the stat sheet, but is a perfect example of what Bratt has provided beyond offense this preseason. He gains the offensive zone and eventually loses the puck, but that doesn’t stop him. He stays strong on the forecheck, stripping Kevin Shattenkirk off the puck. He’s surrounded by several Rangers upon regaining possession, but still maintains puck possession. Ultimately, he’s able to get free and fire a shot towards Lundqvist, while killing valuable time on the Rangers power play. These types of plays are what will help you make the team as a young player.
There’s no doubt Bratt has more than earned a spot on the Devils opening night roster. Aside from Nico Hischier, Bratt has been the Devils most impressive young forward during this training camp. He’s outplayed the likes of Blake Speers, Michael McLeod, and rest of the Devils forwards who were expected to compete for spots over him this preseason. He’s provided offense and strong two-way play, both factors that will help a young player make the opening night roster. It would be hard for the Devils to send him back given the camp he’s had and if he continues playing the way he did this preseason, don’t be surprised if he sticks around for the long haul.