Jacob Josefson: A Top-Six Center For The New Jersey Devils?


New Jersey Devils’ center Jacob Josefson has been somewhat of an enigma this season, as he has shown flashes of becoming the player the Devils thought they were selecting with the 20th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

But while it seems as if Josefson will never be the”elite” player the Devils thought he would be when he was drafted, Josefson’s play this season has raised the question: should the New Jersey Devils give him a chance to be more than a bottom-six center?

Why They Should

Josefson scored his fifth goal of the season on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a hard wrist shot over goaltender Thomas Greiss’ blocker from the right hash mark. The goal was also Josefson’s tenth point, matching a career-high.

Josefson’s shootout ability displayed this season also makes the case that he is more offensively skilled than he has led on during his five-year career.

He has scored four times on seven chances this season, emerging as the Devils’ go-to player in the extra frame.

The Devils have a solid core group of centers in Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Scott Gomez, and Josefson. Henrique is the player with the highest scoring prowess, but none of the others necessarily stand out offensively over one another. Out of the four, Henrique leads the group with 38 points, followed by Gomez with 27, Zajac with 22, and Josefson with 10.

But Josefson is on the bottom of New Jersey’s center totem pole, as he has only averaged just over 12 minutes of ice time per game. The others, subsequently, have all averaged nearly 17:00 of ice time, or more, per game.

Josefson has also played predominantly on a line this season with players including Stephen Gionta, Tuomo Ruutu, Dainius Zubrus, and even Michael Ryder at times, which as most Devils’ fans would agree that those players do not produce many scoring opportunities. If the 24-year-old Swede was centering a line currently centered by Zajac, the argument could be made that his stat line would be more impressive.

Why They Shouldn’t

Out of the Devils’ “core four” centermen, Josefson possesses a respectable 50.2 percent face off success rate, ranking third behind Zajac’s 53.8 percent and Henrique’s 52.5 percent, but far exceeding Gomez’ 46.1 percent. Nonetheless, Josefson’s face-off ability makes him an asset on defensive- zone face-offs.

Josefson’s ability on the defensive side of the puck has been a revelation this season, and that makes the case stronger as to why he should remain in his current role. Emerging as a penalty kill specialist, he is also tied for second in the NHL with three shorthanded goals.

The Stockholm, Sweden native has been a large part of New Jersey’s rise from the penalty kill success cellar. The Devils’ penalty kill now sits at a respectable 81 percent, 18th-best in the league. You’ll probably recall that New Jeresey’s penalty kill was hovering below 70 percent early in the season, and Josefson has been a large part of that turnaround.

The point made earlier that New Jersey has a solid core group of centers also works against Josefson, as it’s unlikely that he would, or should, surpass Henrique or Zajac on the Devils’ depth chart.

My Take

Personally, I can see Josefson developing into a Jay Pandolfo-type player, being a penalty kill whiz while occasionally contributing on offense. Speaking of Pandolfo, his best offensive seasons didn’t come until his age 29 through 33 seasons, so it is entirely possible that Josefson is simply a late bloomer much like Pandolfo was.

But while Josefson has shown he can play on the offensive side of the puck, defense is where his game truly excels. He is best suited to be playing on a defensive-minded line against the opposing team’s top scoring line, much like Pandolfo and John Madden did so well for the Devils 10 to 15 years ago.

Jacob Josefson is still a young talent, and the Devils should consider him part of their young core. Lou Lamoriello should look to build around Josefson this summer, rather than look to him to help build around another player, which would bode well for the future of this franchise.

What are your thoughts? Should the Devils see what Josefson can do playing on a top line? Or should he remain a bottom-six forward?

Next: Schneider Shines Once Again

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