Pavel Zacha was the first draft selection of the Ray Shero era in New Jersey. He was also the first major piece of a rebuild that was a long time coming for the New Jersey Devils. Needless to say, the sixth overall pick of the 2015 NHL entry draft has some high expectations attached to his career. Devils’ fans hope the big Czech center will take a big leap in his second season and they may get their wish.
Zacha certainly seems ready to take that leap and become a force for the Devils, as evidenced by his training regimen this offseason. There is no doubt that he will need to become one if the Devils are to be successful in the future. So let’s review his first year with the team and what should be expected in his second.
Inconsistent Rookie Year
It was an up and down rookie season for Zacha. The now 20-year-old recorded eight goals and 24 points in 70 games. Not overly impressive numbers but he did show glimpses of why he was selected so high. Many probably wished for a better rookie year but I think he did the best with what he was given.
Firstly, he was not given much ice time. Head coach John Hynes relegated him to an average of about 14 minutes of ice time per game. Secondly, he was rarely surrounded with talented wingers in his first year. However, in his limited playing time with Taylor Hall, he looked like a difference-maker and did not seem out of place with top-end talent. Hopefully, that trend repeats itself in 2017-18. It’ll need to if the Devils are to have any chance at success.
It is important to point out that no one is to blame for the lack of ice time and poor supporting cast. The Devils were just in a tough spot. Now, the roster has been infused with more skill and youth which allows for more opportunities given to younger players. With players like Zacha, Nico Hischier, and Mike McLeod on their way up, that opportunity is a very exciting thing.
Top-Six Chance There for the Taking
Zacha had a good chance to be in the top-six at the start of the offseason but with Travis Zajac’s injury, his place has been all but solidified on one the first two lines. He will challenge Adam Henrique for the top center spot as soon as training camp begins. That’s a big jump from 14 minutes a night but he seems to be up for the challenge.
The young center will now receive a healthy chunk of minutes with top-end linemates. I think he would pair nicely with Hall and help the former Edmonton Oiler accomplish his own year-two expectations with the Devils.
He will also receive more time on the power-play as well. If he can improve his faceoff numbers, he would be the best option for the top-unit. His superior stick-handling ability and powerful shot make him a dual-threat on every extra-man advantage.
All of these factors point to a more productive sophomore campaign for Zacha. The bigger role will allow him to play with better linemates and gives him more opportunities to succeed. The chance is there, it is now up to him to make the most of it.
Pavel Zacha – Final Thoughts
The Devils will showcase a lot of their youth next season with Pavel Zacha being one of the biggest attractions on display. Expect him to be in a top-six role to start the year and likely stay there as the season goes on. That is because I think he will improve mightily in his second season in Newark and earn that spot.
With an increased role and more talent surrounding him, I project him to break the 20-goal plateau and be in the neighborhood of 30 assists for about 50 points. He is a major piece of the Devils moving forward and next season is a great chance to prove himself. Hopefully, he exceeds expectations and put the Devils in the playoff race.