Julie will be on location in Slovakia throughout the tournament providing feature stories on Devils as well as top-ranked draft picks Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko for newjerseydevils.com. For full coverage of the Devils competing and their individual and country's performances, visit our international page at newjerseydevils.com/worlds.
BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - When the New Jersey Devils season ended, Jesper Bratt continued to show up to Prudential Center every day to skate and work out. He wanted to stay in shape just in case he got the phone call that he had been dreaming of ever since he was a little boy. The one that would invite him to play on Sweden's men's national team at the world championship.
Fortunately, he only had to wait a few days before Sweden's assistant coach Johan Garpenlov's number showed up on his phone and he was officially invited to wear the Tre Kronor at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia.
"The wait felt a lot longer than two or three days," Bratt said with a smile. "I kept checking my phone and then finally he called and I was so excited. This is one of the biggest tournaments back home for all the fans in Sweden. I've wanted to be on this team ever since I can remember. So, for me to be able to be here, I'm really honored and I know it's going to be a good experience."
Drafted in the 6th round in 2016, Bratt shocked just about everyone when he made the Devils' opening night roster 16 months later. Over the past two seasons, he's notched 21 goals and 47 assists for 68 points in 115 NHL games and has solidified himself as an NHL regular with his blazing speed and offensive abilities. It's those two attributes that Team Sweden hopes will be on display this month as they aim for their third consecutive gold medal at the world championships.
"Obviously, his offensive abilities are well known, but I think he's a shifty player and is really slick," said Swedish head coach Rikard Gronborg. "We're looking at him to fill an offensive role with us and hopefully he can put in some pucks and play on the power play and play on the offensive side of the game.
"I think he sees the ice real well, but he's also really elusive and really hard to contain because he's got a low center of gravity and that makes it really hard for the bigger defensemen to get get ahold of him," he continued. "It's also really hard to to predict this next step on the ice. He's a little bit of a chess player, in that way too. He thinks the game a couple steps ahead, so it's not easy for the opponents to know what his next move is going to be. Like, I said he's just really elusive and will help us have some offensive depth and hopefully provide some secondary scoring."
Bratt, 20, wasn't sure he'd be invited because he didn't play the last month of the season due to a lower body injury, but said the opportunity to play on this team is what helped motivate him through the rehab process so he'd be available.
"I wasn't sure I'd make it back in time for the end of the season, but I knew I wanted to make it back and be ready to go if they invited me to be on this team," the Stockholm native explained. "Like I said, this is a dream of mine, to be here and play for Sweden and I also think it's a great opportunity for me to grow and get better as a player. It's just a really special experience and I didn't want to miss it because I wasn't ready to play."
Bratt is planning to bring some of the lessons he's learned in his two NHL seasons to the Swedish national team, especially playing harder on pucks and bigger than his 5-foot-10, 175 pound frame.
Video: RAW | Jesper Bratt to play in World Championships
"I worked with coach John Hynes a lot this past year about playing harder on pucks and using my skating as more of a weapon as well as my hands and my vision," he said. "When I do that, I can create more space in the offensive zone and do the things that I'm good at down there. We've also focused on me not shying away from physical play. Just because I'm a smaller guy doesn't mean that I can't play big, if I need to in certain situations."
He's also hoping to use this opportunity with the national team as a spring board to a great offseason of training as he enters the last year of his entry level contract.
"The biggest thing for me this summer is going to just be putting in the work," he said. "I want to be better at everything, but I think I'm going to focus a lot on getting a better shot and be a little bit more of an offensive threat. I want to improve my one timer, for sure. That way, I can be a threat all over the zone. I want to get off a quick shot and make sure I hit the net.
"But even being here is helpful," he continued. "Seeing how other players do things and how they prepare and maybe it's something I might want to do too. I just want to get better in any way I can."
Bratt and Team Sweden lost their first game of the tournament, 5-2, to Czech Republic in front of a raucous crowd of 8,523, mostly Czech, fans at Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava on Friday night. He had an assist on their first goal, but will look to put that game - Sweden's first loss at the world championship in 17 games - behind them and get back into the win column against Italy on Sunday.