Devils Need Jesper Bratt to Take a Big Leap Forward

Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils

Jesper Bratt is back and that’s good news for the New Jersey Devils. First-year coach Lindy Ruff wasted no time inserting Bratt into his roster and giving him top-line minutes alongside Jack Hughes. His first game back, he didn’t score any points, but considering he hasn’t played since last season, he didn’t look particularly rusty. As this season goes on, the Devils’ coaching and management staffs are going to have to make some decisions regarding the future of the franchise. What role Bratt is set to play in the team’s future is going to hinge on what he’s able to do this season. The best thing for him and the team would be for him find a way to reach the next step in his development as an NHL forward.

Bratt’s 2019-20 Season By the Numbers

In many ways 2019-20 was a lost season for the Devils. The coach and general manager were fired and Taylor Hall was traded away. Once the team was out of playoff contention, the most buzz it generated was from acquiring a first-round pick and Nolan Foote from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Blake Coleman. There was some talk about Nikita Gusev coming on strong at the end of the season, but it really felt like Bratt’s second half of the season went overlooked.

Jesper Bratt
Jesper Bratt (Photo Credit: New Jersey Devils/Patrick Dodson)

In 2019-20, Bratt scored 16 goals and 16 assists in 60 games for the Devils. That’s a 20-goal per 82-game pace. Ultimately, considering the troubles the Devils have had scoring goals over the years, that’s a real positive takeaway. To really grasp the bigger scope of those numbers, we have to look at them deeper. Let’s break Bratt’s season up at the Dec. 2 mark, when coach John Hynes was fired.

Jesper Bratt 2019-20 Games Played Goals Assists Points Shots Average Time On Ice
Oct. 4 – Dec. 2 21 4 3 7 24 13:05
Dec. 3 – March 10 39 12 13 25 77 14:28
Data provided by Hockey-Reference.com

His per-game averages skyrocket after Hynes was fired. While he did see slightly more ice time, he was also given the opportunity to build some chemistry with some linemates. It should also be mentioned that none of those linemates were Hall. In previous seasons, it might have been possible to dismiss Bratt’s offensive production as being a by-product of playing with Hall. His final 39 games of 2019-20 show this to not be the case as Hall played his last game for the Devils on Dec. 10.

Jesper Bratt 2019-20 Per Game Averages Games Played Shots Per Game Goals Per Game Assists Per Game Points Per Game
Oct. 4 – Dec. 2 21 1.14 0.19 0.14 0.33
Dec. 3 – March 10 39 1.97 0.31 0.33 0.64
Full Season 60 1.68 0.27 0.27 0.53
Number calculated using date from Hockey-Reference.com

Bratt’s 0.65 points per game total from the 2018-19 season would lead me to believe he is closer to the 0.64 points per game player we saw in his final 39 games as opposed to his production from his first 21. These numbers would cause me to label him as a player who can be expected to score 15-20 goals and put up 20-30 assists per season. That is, without a doubt, a valuable player to a franchise. A comparable NHL player in terms of that level production would be Gustav Nyquist of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Consider further that Nyquist accounts for $5.5 million against the salary cap versus Bratt’s $2.75 million cap hit. All these factors combine to make Bratt an already valuable cog in the Devils’ machine.

Scoring Woes in the Garden State

The Devils are a team that has struggled to score goals. They have also struggled to find a go-to goal scorer for their team. For the past five seasons the only consistent 20-goal scorer the Devils have had, whom is still with the team, is Kyle Palmieri. The Devils squad that won the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 had three players eclipse the 30-goal mark that season. In the eight seasons following that year, only three players have done it and each only one time. Palmieri and Adam Henrique each had 30 goals in 2015-16 and then Hall had 39 in 2017-18. The Devils have not had a player eclipse the 40-goal mark since Zach Parise did it in 2008-09. Successful teams in this league tend to have a least one player that can pass the 30-goal threshold with regularity.

Zach Parise scores on Lundqvist
Former Devil, Zach Parise was the last player to score 40-plus goals in a Season (Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE)

With a few exceptions, a team that wants to make the playoffs needs to be able to average at or around three goals for per game over the course of a season. The Devils do not do this. In fact, since 2011-12 the Devils have only finished above league average in goals for one time. It was the 2017-18 season when they made the playoffs and Hall won the Hart Memorial Trophy for the league’s most valuable player. This inability to generate goal scoring and having to rely on stellar goaltending to win low-scoring games was, at one point in time, a formula for success. In today’s NHL it is a painful glass ceiling standing between this team and the playoffs.

Taking the Next Step and Being the Answer

Bratt can be part of the solution to the Devils’ goal-scoring problems. The 162nd pick of the 2016 NHL Entry draft is still only 22 years old. He’s still a developing young player. In his first game this season, Ruff had him on the ice for 20:47. That is the most ice time he had seen in a game that ended in regulation up to that point in his entire career. In spite of not having seen a lot of big-time minutes over the course of his career, he has produced a few seasons that show he’s capable of being a player who can chip in give or take 20 goals and accumulate around 50 points if he plays a full 82-game season. The Devils need more from him this year and they need it going forward into the future.

Palmieri and Gusev have both struggled to adapt to their surroundings so far this season. Through seven games neither one has scored a goal. Both players are also unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. The team needs somebody to step up and start putting the puck in the net with reliable consistency. They also need that player to be someone who can create goals for themselves with their own shooting capabilities. Throwing pucks at the net and trying for deflections is going to yield a certain amount of goals, but there are times when your team needs to rely on a guy who can snipe it.

Alexander Holtz Djurgarden
The Devils hope prospect Alexander Holtz can help their goal production in the future (Photo by ERIK SIMANDER/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images)

The Devils are not a team that has a large stable of gifted shooters. That’s the primary reason they drafted Alexander Holtz with the seventh-overall pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Holtz is not helping them this year and with the uncertainty in the world right now, I wouldn’t necessarily count on him next season, either. It’s also not fair to Holtz to put that amount of expectation on him right away. They need somebody else to step up, or they need to go out and get somebody who can. Biding their time, waiting and hoping Holtz is the answer is a potential recipe for disaster.

RELATED: Devils Pick Alexander Holtz 7th Overall

Bratt has also shown the ability to beat goalies one-on-one off the rush and on the breakaway with dazzling moves. He’s able to find a seam through the neutral zone and if they can hit him with a stretch pass, he’s off to the races. In an odd-man-rush situation, he’s the Devil you want taking the shot.

While these goals make for wonderful highlight reels, they are not what teams build themselves around in today’s NHL. Teams play a possession game with a lot of cycling and puck movement in the offensive zone. The idea is to find a seam to get a shot through. That only works if you have players who are accurate, capable shooters. Bratt is one of the few Devils that has an effective arsenal of shots in the cycle. He has excellent hands in tight and is able to use both his forehand and backhand to beat goaltenders from inside the 10-foot range. If left alone in space, he also has an accurate wrist shot from the circles and from the middle of the ice. His wrist shot even has enough velocity to occasionally beat goaltenders when he shoots it from long range, outside of what are considered “danger areas.” Aside from Palmieri and Gusev, Bratt is probably the best pure shooter on the team.

He Can Start By Shooting More Often

In spite of having a good shooting skill set, Bratt does not generate a particularly high volume of shots or shot attempts per game.

Games Played Shot Attempts Shots Goals SA Per Game S Per Game Thru % Shooting% Absolute Shooting %
186 474 294 37 2.55 1.58 62.0% 12.6% 7.8%
Absolute shooting % is calculated by dividing the number of goals by shot attempts rather than shots
Data provided by Hockey-Reference.com

Based on the data above, Bratt approximately scores one goal for every 13 shot attempts. At his current career rate, it takes him approximately five games to reach 13 shot attempts. That averages out to around 20 goals in an 82-game season. For the sake of comparisons, lets take a look at Palmieri’s numbers throughout his Devils career.

Games Played Shot Attempts Shots Goals SA Per Game S Per Game Thru % Shooting% Absolute Shooting %
370 1,794 993 132 4.85 2.68 55.35% 13.3% 7.35%
Absolute shooting % is calculated by dividing the number of goals by shot attempts rather than shots
Data provided by Hockey-Reference.com

Palmieri’s absolute shooting value sees him score approximately one goal for ever 14 shot attempts. Bratt has averaged substantially fewer minutes per game than Palmieri has over his time as a Devil. With Ruff at the helm that is likely to change. Based purely on these statistics, if Bratt did nothing more than increase his shot attempts per game to be on par with Palmieri’s Devils career average, he would achieve a 30-goal per 82-game scoring rate. That’s where the Devils need him to be.

RELATED: Devils Have Plenty of Lineup Options When Bratt Returns

Bratt has all the tools at his disposal to help push him beyond being just a 20-goal, 50-point player. Those totals are nice, and its certainly great to get that kind of return from a sixth-round pick. However, he could be so much more. If the Devils make him a focal point of their offense and he is able to respond to expectation, Bratt is the kind of player who could blossom into a 60 or maybe even 70-point player in the next few years. Help from their prospect pool is on its way eventually with a few gifted shooters set to compete for spots. Gusev and Palmieri will likely play their way out of the funk they are currently in and one or both of them may get new contracts with the team. Right now, though, there is an opportunity for Bratt’s star to rise and for him to take a big leap forward in what he means to this hockey club. If he’s able to do it, it makes the Devils’ future that much brighter.



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