The 2021-22 season saw veteran forward Erik Haula endear himself to the fans of the Boston Bruins. A depth signing in the offseason, Haula was never expected to be a major difference-maker during his stint with the Bruins. Despite this, the Finnish forward would work his way up to the team’s second-line center position, scoring 18 goals and 44 points in 78 games and helping to fill the void left by David Krejci. His successful season was good enough for the Bruins to parlay Haula into Pavel Zacha via a trade with the New Jersey Devils during the 2022 offseason.
Before getting into the specifics of how Zacha and Haula have performed for their new teams, let’s first look at how both players entered the NHL and got to this point in their respective careers.
Zacha and Haula Took Different Paths to the NHL
Zacha and Haula are both bonafide NHL players, but their paths to the league could not have been any different.
Haula would be drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild and spent parts of the next five years working towards a role on the NHL squad. He’d play for the Wild for four seasons before joining the Vegas Golden Knights as a part of the Expansion Draft. He’d then spend time with the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators before eventually signing with the Bruins as a well-traveled journeyman in the NHL.
Zacha, on the other hand, was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and would get his first taste of NHL action the following season following the completion of the Sarnia Sting’s campaign that year. In his first taste of NHL action, Zacha would record two assists and immediately stood out as a player to watch for fans around the league. Unfortunately during his time with the Devils, Zacha would never break out in the way many had hoped he would coming out of the OHL. He appeared to turn the corner during the 2020-21 season when he’d score 17 goals and 35 points in 50 games (a near-28-goal and 57-point pace over an 82-game season).
Now that we’ve seen how both players got to this point, let’s look at how they’ve done with their new teams.
Zacha Is Having a Better Season Than Haula
In his first season with the Bruins, the 25-year-old Zacha has scored eight goals and 30 points and looks primed to crush his previous career-high in points (36) – a total he would put up just one season ago with the Devils. The 6-foot-4 Zacha has spent the majority of his first season in Boston on the wing next to Krejci and David Pastrnak, a line that has united three Czech-born players together. Zacha, like Haula, has the versatility to play both on the wing and at center, and that versatility could go a long way in the short-term and in the long term – especially after the Bruins signed Zacha to a four-year contract extension worth $19 million.
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Though Zacha is standing out in his first season with the Bruins in what is looking like a historic season for the team, Haula has had his share of struggles with the Devils that haven’t gone unnoticed by fans. Despite spending so much time alongside 2019 first-overall pick Jack Hughes, Haula has yet to score a goal assisted by Hughes this season and only four goals total. This is notable given the fact that Hughes and Haula have spent 387 minutes of ice time together at five-on-five so far this season. It’s even more noteworthy when considering that Hughes has 27 assists in 45 games.
Haula has found himself playing in the Devils’ bottom six as of late in a move that might actually be best for all parties. There’s still time for him to turn his season around, but it’s clear that Zacha is performing better than Haula, is significantly younger and also comes with four extra years of NHL control following his extension. It’s hard to argue that the Bruins haven’t come away as winners of this deal already.
With the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup in mind, the Bruins and Devils both have their sights set on finishing in first place in the NHL this season and securing home-ice advantage throughout the postseason. The Bruins sit 14 points ahead of the Devils in the overall standings and will need to keep playing at their absolute best to maintain the lead they have amassed thus far.