Big things were expected from Jacob Josefson when the New Jersey Devils drafted him 20th overall in 2009. At 17, he had already made a name for himself as a dependable two-way center with Djurgarden in the Swedish League. In 2010, he made the move to North America and was able to make the Devils out of training camp with one year of junior eligibility left. But instead of success and steady progress, the eight years he spent in the NHL were filled with injuries and disappointment. “The first few years, well, basically every year I had some kind of issue, and often there were some pretty weird injuries,” Josefson said. “Broken collarbones, broken wrists, broken thumbs. Every time I felt like I was making progress, there was some kind of injury that held me back. I don’t want to use that as an excuse, but it was like starting all over from scratch every time I got hurt.”
After yet another injury-riddled season with the Buffalo Sabres, where he was limited to 39 games last year, Josefson felt he needed a change of scenery. He decided to uproot his young family and move back to Sweden. Djurgarden didn’t hesitate when the 27-year-old became available, jumping on the chance to sign him to a four-year contract.
Not only was it an opportunity to start all over, it was an opportunity to play in a different role. During his years with the Devils and the Sabres, Josefson had played limited minutes in a bottom-six role. In Djurgarden, he would be a top-line center with a prominent position on the power play.
There was some initial skepticism as to whether he could excel after being injured so often and playing so few offensive minutes in the NHL. But the fears of failure proved to be unwarranted. During the pre-season, Josefson lit up the Champions League, racking up eight points in four games. That success continued into the SHL season, where he took an early lead in the scoring race with 12 points in eight games. “This is what I wanted to achieve with my move back home,” Josefson said. “I’ve always known I’ve had a more creative side to my game. I just haven’t been able to show it (in the NHL), but I feel that Djurgarden’s style suits my game and gets the best out of me. It feels as if it brings out my creativity. It’s fun to play in a prominent role and be a leader. I can only try to savor the moment.”
Josefson, who wore the ‘C’ as Djurgarden captain early on while Andreas Engqvist recovered from concussion problems, found immediate success on a line with close friend Daniel Brodin, a former Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, and undrafted winger Jakob Lilja. They were easily the most productive line in the league early on. Both linemates pointed to Josefson as the main reason for their instant success. “He’s the one who gets the line going,” Lilja said. “He’s such a smart player and a great playmaker. We all like to play with a lot of speed, and we’re always a threat in the offensive zone because of his ability to give us the puck in the right spots.”
Djurgarden bench boss Robert Ohlsson used to coach Josefson as an under-18 player. He knew the team was getting a good and highly motivated player, but he was still surprised by Josefson’s impact in the opening month of the season, especially since he’s been away from Swedish hockey for such a long time. “I wasn’t sure he would be able to get off to such a good start, but I was pretty sure he would produce eventually,” Ohlsson said. “His start has been very strong, and that’s very much appreciated.”
So what could a season of health and prosperity mean for Josefson? Another shot at the NHL? He won’t give you a straight answer to that question. “It’s way too early to think of next year at this point,” Josefson said. “I’m only happy I’m back home having success with the team. We’ll see what the future brings at a later point.”