It's only a matter of time before New Jersey Devils
rookie center Jacob Josefson
is awarded his first NHL goal.
He notched his first assist Sunday on a nifty drop pass to Ilya Kovalchuk
during a victory against the New York Islanders
. He came close Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators
, but his deflection in front was ruled to have been played with a high stick.
Josefson appears to be gaining more confidence with each start under coach Jacques Lemaire
, who has always had a knack for turning young skaters into productive players. In 12 games, the 20-year-old Swede has only 15 shots while averaging 12:15 of ice time, but he's also won 31 of 68 faceoffs (45.6 percent).
"This kid has it, there's no doubt,” Lemaire said. "He just turned 20 (March 2), and he's a good player right now. If you look at his stats, his stats are not that great, but as a hockey player, you want him on your team."
"This kid has it, there's no doubt. He just turned 20 (March 2), and he's a good player right now. If you look at his stats, his stats are not that great, but as a hockey player, you want him on your team." -- Jacques Lemaire
Josefson played six games for the Devils before he injured a ligament in his left thumb Oct. 27 in San Jose. When he regained strength in January, he was sent to the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany, where he had 3 goals and 12 points in 18 games. He was recalled Feb. 17, and he's making the most of his second chance with the big club. Lately he's been centering Vladimir Zharkov
and fellow countryman Mattias Tedenby
"Since I came back here to New Jersey, I think I learned some stuff from Jacques, especially in the defensive game in our zone." Josefson said. "I think the way we're playing back there makes it very easy for a centerman to always have an option when you get the puck."
Even Josefson's teammates can sense a more confident player this time around.
"He's a smart kid and speaks English very well, so that helps him blend in with the guys easier," rookie forward Nick Palmieri
told NHL.com. "The transition coming over here was easy for him because he's really smart and a good player. When you're playing well, it's easier to blend in with the group. He obviously has a bright future and he's just starting to scratch the surface of his potential, so it'll be fun to see how he develops."
Josefson admits he's beginning to react to situations without thinking -- a sign he's more acclimated to his role within the system.
"When you don't think, that's where you want to be," Josefson said. "It's like when you're in your zone and you just play. I think in the first games here, I thought a lot where I had to be on the ice, but I think that I really feel comfortable now and know how the team should play and how I should play."
Spending some time in Albany did wonders for Josefson's offensive development.
"I think it helped a lot," he said. "After the injury, I had to play a lot of games. Before that, I played (five) games. The most important thing for me right now is to play hockey and that's what I did in Albany. I got my confidence back and tried to handle the puck."
Lemaire has been impressed most by Josefson's sense for the game.
"I think how he understands the game, where he goes on the ice, when he plays when he doesn't have the puck, what is he going to do," Lemaire said. "When he has the puck, what he's doing with the puck. He's quick. He's strong. He's got good hands and sees the ice well. He's got a lot of qualities. As soon as he gets that scoring quality, he'll be a player."
If good things come to those who wait, Lemaire is confident the wait won't be long for Josefson.
"A kid like this needs to get some chances," Lemaire said. "You know, go in a game and get three, four chances. Then go to the next game and get two, three chances. Then go and keep getting these chances. And then goals will come."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale