When the 2022-23 NHL season kicks off, the Boston Bruins will be significantly shorthanded as a result of some offseason surgeries. One such surgery that took place will keep Brad Marchand on the shelf for the first few months of the season, which means the Bruins will need to be creative in how they deploy their lineup in the early stages of the campaign. Though not ideal for the team as a whole, one player who could benefit from this opportunity is newcomer Pavel Zacha who was acquired by the team in a trade for Erik Haula earlier this offseason.
The 25-year-old Zacha is entering his seventh season as an NHL player, but just his first as a member of the Bruins. Though he has been solid throughout his career thus far, displaying skill, strength and the ability to compete in various areas of the ice, his performance has never quite lived up to the hype he garnered as a prospect when he was drafted sixth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. His career-best season came during the 2020-21 season which saw him score 17 goals and 35 points in 50 games – good for a roughly 28-goal and 57-point pace over a full 82-game season. He took a step back last season, however, and scored 15 goals and a career-high 36 points, though his one more point than the season prior came in 20 more games played.
Zacha Can Earn Early Opportunity on the Bruins’ Top Line
While Zacha projects to be a top-nine player for the Bruins, it’s unlikely he’ll be slotted in the top-six for the long-haul of the 2022-23 season given the players already in place when the team is fully healthy. If all things work out and the team is at full health, the top six should look something like this:
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Jake DeBrusk
Taylor Hall – David Krejci – David Pastrnak
It’s possible that DeBrusk and Pastrnak switch places, and it’s also possible that DeBrusk fails to replicate his impressive 2021-22 season performance that saw him excel alongside Bergeron and Marchand, which could open the door for someone like Zacha or even a prospect like Fabian Lysell to slide up the lineup. In a perfect world, though, this is the top-six and Zacha would then fill a third-line role on the club.
This is when the team is fully healthy. When the season starts, however, this won’t be the case as previously mentioned. Because of this, the spot Marchand usually fills in the lineup will be up for grabs early as the Bruins look to remain relatively competitive in the early stages as they make seemingly one last push for a Stanley Cup with this core. While Hall is far and away the best-left winger on the roster behind Marchand, it wouldn’t be wise to play him alongside Bergeron early in the year as capitalizing on the chemistry he’s displayed with both Krejci during the 2020-21 season and Pastrnak during the 2021-22 season is paramount to the team’s success. As such, Zacha should be the first in line to play in that role, flanking Bergeron and DeBrusk early in the year.
The idea of an all-Czech-born line of Zacha, Krejci and Pastrnak is fun and may actually be practical when all is said and done, but it shouldn’t be the team’s first option coming out of training camp.
Zacha is signed to a one-year contract and this could be a great opportunity for the Bruins and for Zacha to at least see what the future entails for him with the team. Both sides seem to already be happy with the relationship forming, but this is a performance-driven industry and Zacha will need to prove that he’s capable of playing up to a big contract if he’s seeking a long-term extension in the offseason. For the Bruins, this is the best opportunity they’ll have to see how he performs when put in a situation to succeed with competitive linemates who are often among the best in the NHL, even if will be a relatively small sample size.
Related: Bruins’ Lysell Can Add Missing Offensive Elements to NHL Lineup
This could all be a moot point coming out of training camp if Zacha fails to impress over another player potentially also knocking on the door. The Bruins seem to be ready to give some younger players a chance this season, though not at the cost of winning games in such an imperative season. Still, if someone like Lysell comes out of training camp and the preseason and makes it impossible to ignore his performance early, the Bruins could opt to use him on the top line with DeBrusk sliding over to his natural left side. This would give Zacha an opportunity to form chemistry with Charlie Coyle on the third line early, but that isn’t quite as exciting an opportunity as playing with Bergeron.