At this point of the Top 25 Devils Under 25 List, it's pretty obvious which group of players top the list. They are truly NHL players. These players aren't like #20 Matthew Corrente or #9 Vladimir Zharkov, who have had their chances in the NHL but won't be returning. These players aren't like #6 Mattias Tedenby, who received plenty of opportunities to stick around in New Jersey but played themselves off the roster. No, these three players have already secured a spot of sorts at the highest level. They're still young enough that they can still grow, but they're good enough now to suit up for New Jersey. That mix of potential and accomplishment makes those three reign supreme on our list. The third ranked member of the little group is forward Jacob Josefson.
#3 - Jacob Josefson - C/LW - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 190 lbs. - Age: 21 - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL)
As indicated by his extensive profile at Elite Prospects, Jacob Josefson truly is a product of Djurgården in the Elitserien. He grew up from their youth ranks and performed well enough to make it onto their SEL team before turning 18. What's more is that he stuck around for the whole season while representing his country well at the U-18 and U-20 levels. After getting drafted by New Jersey, he remained with the club for another season where his responsibilities and production increased. Josefson signed a contract with the Devils in the summer of 2010 and was assigned to Albany after training camp. He wouldn't stay in Albany too long as he was called up in the middle of October. He played in a few games and then hurt his hand. Josefson recovered and reported to Albany, but he was brought back in February 2011. He started playing regularly from March onward. While his minutes were initially limited, Jacques Lemaire increased his role as the season went on. I'm sure the fact that the 2010-11 season was essentially lost played a role in that decision, but Josefson showed off why he was so touted in the 2009 draft.
In 2011-12, it was made readily apparent that Josefson would remain in New Jersey. Of course, that's not what he was known for that season. No, it was about his injuries. In October, he skated directly into the boards hard and broke his clavicle. That kept him off the ice until January. He played four games in Albany for conditioning purposes and then returned Newark on January 17. While he was limited to the bottom six in the lineup, he was a regular on the roster. Unfortunately, Josefson broke his left wrist on April 4 and so he was off the ice again. He would return for six appearances in the playoffs, thanks to the Devils' deep run in the 2012 playoffs. Therefore, when he was activated from injury, he did play in Games 4, 5, and 6 against the Rangers and Games 1, 2, and 3 against the Kings. That's the Eastern Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals, respectively. He didn't play a lot in those games, but he did play in them. The fact he was put into the lineup for very important games after being injured and not really having that strong of a 2011-12 season speaks volumes about how the Devils view Josefson.
A description of what he does is in order. Josefson is basically a two way center with a great mind for the game. He plays well off the puck and he's got good vision with the puck. He's a smooth skater and he's got some good speed to go with it. He's not shy along the boards, though a little more strength would help him. Josefson tends to make good decisions on the ice and he doesn't freak out when things go awry. He's versatile enough to play center or wing. As proof of improvement between his first and second season in New Jersey, his on-ice Corsi rate improved from 0.19 to 5.96 with limited minutes and similarly weak competition at even strength according to Behind the Net. While he received less ice time on average in 2011-12 (13:14 down to 12:05), he was used on the team's penalty kill and averaged 1:09 of shorthanded ice time per game. Normally, teams don't put very young players on their PK. Josefson has the skills and the mentality that he can perform in those situations and the Devils coaches were fine with that. If he can do all that now, then it stands to reason that he'll become a stronger two-way center - provided he stays healthy.
His offensive contributions have raised some questions, at least in my view. He tends to pass first (which I think is fine) and his shot isn't so bad. However, the production doesn't suggest much. In 2010-11, his ten points in 28 games hinted at some offense. The nine points in 41 games suggested otherwise. More distressingly than that, he had 31 shots on net in 2010-11 and only 37 in 2011-12. I understand he played alongside the shot machine David Clarkson quite a bit in 2011-12 and I did note that he became a more positive force in possession. I still think he really could have generated more than six shots in thirteen additional games. Perhaps he just needs to be more aggressive and shoot more. As it so happens, he is Albany's leading scorer in goals (4) and points (8) while tied for second in shots on goal (26) as of November 14. So there are signs that he could improve as an offensive player. I still think he ends up as a second liner at best or a third liner at worst; but he is on the path to become a useful center for this team. Injuries have proven to be obstacles, but they're hopefully not going to plague him forever.
Obviously, Josefson wasn't producing in Albany when we did our rankings way back in mid-September. We all ranked him within our top three for the reasons outlined earlier in this post. Josefson is clearly a NHL player. When he broke his clavicle, he only returned to Albany for conditioning and then returned to the New Jersey lineup. His usage has been limited, but the fact he played on their penalty killing unit regularly is evidence that his responsibilities were growing. If that wasn't enough, the Devils coaches had no issue putting him back in the lineup after being out of action for nearly two months in the middle of the Eastern Conference Finals. The only reason he's in Albany now is because of the lockout. Unlike the majority of this list, Josefson actually made it this far and he's going to stay at this level provided he stays healthy.
The reason why he's not ahead of the other two guys is two-fold. First, he's been used in a limited basis in New Jersey. Under DeBoer, Josefson averaged just over twelve minutes per game and usually on the third line. Over time and experience, he'll get more and more time. However, the other two guys have done more and in arguably larger roles. Second, his upside isn't as high as the others. Josefson's ceiling seems to be as a second line center, and I think his offense will really need to blossom to get there. We think he'll be a fine and useful player for New Jersey and he's definitely the second best forward on our list, but he's not going to be the featured player for lack of a better term. Still, I don't think there will be many complaints for Josefson at #3. After all, he's at the level the rest are either working to get to or fell short of staying around.
Now that you've read about Josefson, I want to know you think about the player. What do you think he'll become for the New Jersey Devils in future seasons? When the NHL season returns, do you think Josefson's role will increase? What do you expect to see from the player going forward? Do you think we ranked him too high, too low, or just about right? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Jacob Josefson in the comments. Thank you for reading.