International Ice Hockey Federation

How ‘bout Bratt

How ‘bout Bratt

Swedish rookie making history in New Jersey

Published 13.10.2017 05:07 GMT-4 | Author Dhiren Mahiban
How ‘bout Bratt
Swedish forward Jesper Bratt battles with Canada’s Mason Shaw during the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. He’s among the candidates for the U20 national team that will compete at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo. Photo: Minas Panagiotakis / HHOF-IIHF Images
In the shadow of the hype around first-round pick Nico Hischier another rookie has caught the eye of hockey fans at the New Jersey Devils with Jesper Bratt.

Tom Fitzgerald first remembers watching the 19-year-old Swedish forward last November while he was in Europe on a scouting trip. The New Jersey Devils assistant general manager recalled seeing a smallish forward who could skate well, but nothing jumped out about Bratt’s game to the former NHLer.

Fitzgerald saw Bratt again following the 2017 NHL Entry Draft at the Devils development camp and noticed a change in the 2016 sixth-round selection. Then in August, at the World Junior Summer Showcase, while playing against other top NHL prospects, Bratt shone scoring two goals and two assists in four games for Sweden.

“It wasn’t until this past development camp until I went ‘Whoa’,” said Fitzgerald. “He was very strong on his skates, got really good hockey sense, excellent hockey sense, heavy stick, but he’s not big. It was only development camp.

“Then I went out to Plymouth for the summer showcase where you’ve Canada’s best, the U.S.’s best, Sweden, the Finns – it really was a showcase of who’s who of each team’s prospects. And he just made it look easy. Could handle the puck. It was like, ‘Wow’. I remember saying, ‘This kid is going to be a good player’.”

Bratt admittedly wasn’t happy with his 2016/17 season playing for AIK Stockholm in Sweden’s second-tier Allsvenskan. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound forward scored six goals and 22 assists in 46 games.

He also fell off Sweden’s radar for the IIHF World Junior Championship.

“Last year was a pretty tough year for me,” Bratt said. “It was tough for me to be confident on the ice, I was always nervous before games so I never performed to my highest level. I didn’t know how to make myself ready for the next day and that is something I worked on a lot this year to play at my highest level every night. I think that is most important.”

In an effort to improve his game both on and off the ice, the Stockholm native made multiple changes this summer from working out with a new skills coach to enlisting in a mental coach Andy Sward.

“I started working with (Sward) just over the summer to help me be prepared for the games, for the practices and all that stuff so he’s been great to me,” said Bratt. “I always call him before games. FaceTime. It’s great to talk to him before games. He makes me feel very comfortable.”

Bratt also joined several Swedish NHLers such as Gabriel Landeskog, Jacob Josefson, Rickard Rakell and Patric Hornqvist in a pro skate Stockholm.

“It was a great summer for me both on and off the ice,” he said. “I feel a lot stronger and faster. It was nice to practise with all the pro guys like William and Alex Nylander and a couple more pro guys like Viktor Loov. I had a great workout with a couple Swedish NHL players. It was a great summer for me.”

The steps taken by Bratt in the summer have paid off early in the season.

It’s rare for a sixth-round pick to arrive at the NHL level so quickly, but after just three games, Bratt has shown he belongs.

The 19-year-old is an excellent skater, who always finds himself in the right spots on the ice. It’s helped him contribute three goals and three assist. He became the first player in Devils history to record five points in the first two games of his NHL career.

The way Bratt thinks the game has landed him on the Devils penalty kill and power play.

“His compete level is really good, he can make plays in small spaces under pressure,” said Devils coach John Hynes. “I think when you have a guy that can play at a high pace, competes like he does, and he has the ability, even at that high of a pace, to be able to turn plays and make plays is something that’s been impressive to see.”

With just one Stanley Cup playoff appearance in the last seven seasons, New Jersey’s front office staff arrived at training camp in September with a mantra of playing the “best guy”, it’s opened the door for Bratt, who thought he’d be spending the season in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights after being selected in the first round of the 2017 CHL Import Draft.

However, with Bratt’s early season play, the Devils will have a few options to consider. If he continues to produce, he’s likely to say with the NHL club. Since he was drafted out of Sweden 162nd overall and not from a CHL junior team, he’s eligible for the American Hockey League or European pro hockey. New Jersey could also assign Bratt to London – where he thought he’d spend the 2017/18 season.

“It’s something that we touched on, but haven’t dissected it,” said Fitzgerald. “In one sense you could say well going to the American Hockey League would be great because we control him, we have our hands on him and we can call him back up. We can give him this type of development path. The American Hockey League is a hard league. For a kid like that, it could be harder because it’s a little (less structured). He’s so smart he knows where guys are. He’s playing chess with chess players. You go down there; sometimes you’re playing chess with checker players.

“On the flip side of it, the only reason he came over here was to play in London. He made a commitment to come over and play. We made a commitment to him when we signed him with all intentions to play in the CHL so I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re not even thinking about it to be honest with you because we’re just living day-to-day.”

If his game does taper off, and Bratt finds himself in either the AHL or OHL, he’d likely get to fulfill another childhood dream: playing for the national team at the under-20 level.

“To play for the national team is one of the things that as a kid I was growing up dreaming about,” he said. “Playing in World Juniors would be pretty cool for me.”

For now Bratt is trying to remain in the moment and take things as they come. He hasn’t had discussions about the OHL or AHL with the organization, but if he continues on his current path, there won’t be a conversation to be had.

“I’ve been pretty lucky to score some goals and stuff,” Bratt said. “I’m just trying to play my best game every night and I’ve been pretty lucky so far so it’s been nice.”

 

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