STOCKHOLM — Jesper Bratt will arrive back in New Jersey on Sept. 8 and move back into the same apartment he’s been renting with his girlfriend in Jersey City for the past two seasons.
“It’s nice because I can just hang up my stuff,” the New Jersey Devils left wing said last week at the NHL’s European Player Media Tour. “I’m moved in already.”
It might be time for the 25-year-old to invest in the local real estate market.
Bratt will also return to New Jersey ready to start making good on the eight-year, $63 million contract he signed June 15 and prepared to handle the expectations of helping the Devils become a Stanley Cup champion for the first time in more than two decades.
“The eight-year deal is what I wanted to be on this journey and to build this championship team,” Bratt said. “Obviously, how it had been going in the past with the two-year deal and the one-year deal it was always the best solution at the time, but it was always the long term that I wanted because I want to be a part of this team.”
The Devils set team records for wins (52) and points (112) last season, finishing second in the Metropolitan Division and winning a round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012 by defeating the New York Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference First Round.
It was a 25-win and 49-point improvement from 2021-22 and the first time the Devils reached the playoffs since 2018.
Bratt had 73 points (32 goals, 41 assists) for the second straight season. He was fourth on the team in scoring after leading the Devils with his 26 goals and 47 assists in 2021-22.
“I felt this whole last season how exciting our team was and how great we played,” Bratt said. “I really feel we have the group to go all the way with this team. I didn’t want to miss out on that by any means. The eight-year deal gives us a chance to keep our core for a longer period of time to win that Cup.”
Bratt sat down with NHL.com at the Player Media Tour to talk about his new contract, expectations for the season, his development as a player and more.
You’ve been renting in New Jersey. Is it time to buy?
“We are considering it. We’re thinking about it. We’re still thinking a little bit about what we want to do, if we want to stay in an apartment or get a house. We’re happy we have the apartment this year because everything is a little more convenient, going out to eat or ordering food. We do have plans on hopefully buying a house. Time will figure that out.”
What did you buy yourself as a gift after signing your contract?
“I didn’t buy myself anything actually. I didn’t do anything special with it. It was just nice to have the eight years, the term, knowing I’ll be in Jersey. I didn’t really change anything in my life. My little brother (Filip) needed a car so I got him a car so he could get around for the new team he plays for in the Swedish league in Boras, which is outside of Gothenburg.”
After last season’s success, do you think the Devils can become a championship team even quicker than you may have originally thought?
“It’s always a long journey. It’s always tough. If you look at all the best teams, they go three or four years before they made it. Vegas was in the finals, the conference finals, then they had one down year and then they finally did it. Obviously, you have the expectation and that’s always the end goal, but it doesn’t mean just because you have one good year you’ll get the Cup. But I see the character in the room we have, the players we have, the organization we have, I definitely feel we have the foundation to do it. Now it’s just up to us.”
I stopped and talked with (Devils coach) Lindy Ruff at the draft in June and he told me that he thinks it’s going to be harder to win this season. Do you feel the same way?
“Now we have the pressure, but the pressure is also the thing we’ve been wanting for so many years. All these years when these rankings came out it was the Devils will be in the bottom 10, but we want teams to look at us and say, ‘Wow, this could be a top five team.’ Now I think we deserve that. We worked hard for it and we deserve that pressure and that recognition for how great of a team we are. This season is going to be hard. Teams are going to look at us when they come play us and they’re going to say, ‘This is a top team in the League, we have to play our best to beat these guys.’ That’s the exciting part. Now it’s up to us to bring on that challenge and raise it.”
Did you feel like you had that last season as the season went on?
“I think we did. I think a lot of people looked at us until New Years or the Christmas break saying, ‘OK, they played well for the first 35 games, but are they going to dip now?’ A lot of people were saying, ‘Oh, I think that was a fluke and in the end they’re going to slow down.’ I think we even gained in the end. I think we played some really good hockey. We won some mature games that we had to win. Going for that home ice advantage we were working hard for it and we won against some really good teams. We had a tough schedule and we as a group we embraced that the right way.”
The past two seasons you reached 73 points and before that you were in the low 30s. What clicked for you to establish yourself to be this type of player?
“I think that came obviously from a lot of years of extremely hard work, but I think it started clicking when I started realizing that I can use so much more than I’ve done in the past. Instead of being this guy that plays this simple, steady game, I started to extend my game. I did that together with Jack [Hughes] and Nico [Hischier]. Lindy came in and he gave us a little more rope. He told us we can hold onto more pucks, create more, shoot more. That was one of my things after my first season with Lindy, he said, ‘You have a nice shot, I see it in practice, but I need you to use it.’ For me, playing with a guy like Nico and especially Jack, who I played more with my first season, with his hockey sense and all the passes he gave me, I had to capitalize on those chances. That’s when my shooting practices came in more to be a better shooter so I could capitalize on the times I get the chances. Then the confidence started kicking in and all of a sudden you’re on a roll because you’ve done all the hard work and preparation before that. Once the last piece of the puzzle starts to click in then you can be a bigger threat.”
What’s the next level?
“It all comes down to small details. I can get faster. I can get stronger on pucks. I can be a better net front presence. I can tip more pucks in front, create more chaos. How do I take more pucks to the net? How do I win my battles? How do I keep doing my cutbacks to create time and space? How do me and Nico and me and Jack come together with the everyone, together with Timo [Meier], together with [Dawson] Mercer, with [Tyler] Toffoli, with [Ondrej] Palat? How do we all come together as a group to start creating this championship team.”
When the Devils acquired Timo Meier last season I was wondering if they were going to be able to keep both you and him considering the salary cap ramifications. In the end, they did, but were you wondering the same thing?
“It was always in the back of my mind a little bit. It’s always there when you’re wondering what they are going to do, where are their heads at, what their process is going to be like? But my agent with ‘Fitzy’ [general manager Tom Fitzgerald] always had a good relationship. They talked through it, had honest, good discussions and I was confident we were going to make this work for the whole team. When I heard the conversations with Timo it sounded positive too that he wanted to be on board with this. Obviously, I am extremely excited having him on board too.”
What does the addition of Tyler Toffoli mean, especially considering his experience and all he’s been through?
“His experience is a huge key. That’s what happened and why we brought in Palat too, to really show the ropes of this is how it’s done. This is how we deal with downfalls. This is how we deal with success. To have these guys around us is so key, especially for some of the younger guys. So now adding Toffoli, who has been through and came off a great season last year, we’re excited to have him for his hockey sense, his grit, his hockey IQ in front of the net, his shot. I think having him as a winger playing with Nico or Jack, it’s going to be a really good piece of the puzzle. It’s something we talked about on the power play too to add another righty to keep that dynamic. I think he’s the perfect fit.”