Canucks 2022 Trade Deadline Targets: Devils Pavel Zacha

Now that the Vancouver Canucks’ front office is set with new hires Jim Rutherford, Patrik Allvin, Cammi Granato, Émilie Castonguay, Derek Clancey and Rachel Doerrie, the real work begins. By work, I mean figuring out how to make this team a playoff contender year in and year out. That, unfortunately, will require some changes to the current roster, especially in the short term as they try to wedge themselves free from the cap squeeze former general manager Jim Benning put them in before he got fired.

Since Rutherford took control of the hockey operations department, trade rumours have swirled around names like J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Conor Garland and Jaroslav Halak. More and more of his vision for the team has also been revealed as people have been hired and interviews on radio talk shows and podcasts have been done. The most recent development is that the Canucks are looking to acquire players between the ages of 20-25 who have fallen out of favour with their respective clubs (from ‘Pavel Zacha, Vitali Kravtsov and 8 more potential Canucks trade deadline targets between the ages of 20-25’, The Athletic, 2/14/22).

Related: 5 Canucks Prospects Turning Heads in 2021-22

In the spirit of that, I am starting a series of articles profiling players the Canucks are rumoured to or should have interest in leading up to the trade deadline. I will go through their background, how they would fit with the team, a brief scouting report, the potential cost of acquiring them, what THW’s writers are saying, and more.

So, with all that said, let’s start the fun with Pavel Zacha of the New Jersey Devils who was recently in the rumour mill as someone Rutherford and company are discussing as being part of their first trades as Canucks brass.

Zacha’s Journey From Draft Day to 2021-22

Chosen sixth overall by the Devils in 2015 ahead of current stars Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor, just to name a few, Zacha has clearly not lived up to his lofty draft position. Rantanen (10th), Barzal (16th) and Connor (17th) are all top-line players with their respective teams and Zacha is a borderline top-six center/winger. Not exactly what the Devils were expecting when they selected him in the top 10, that’s for sure.

Pavel Zacha New Jersey Devils
Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Arguably rushed into the NHL, Zacha played 70 games for the Devils at the youthful age of 19 and finished with eight goals in his rookie season. It wasn’t until he turned 23 that he seemingly figured out how to score in the big leagues. During the 2020-21 campaign, he scored a career-high 17 goals and was trusted with top-six ice time. He also saw an improvement in his faceoff numbers going from 43.3 to 51.5 percent. Needless to say, it appeared he had turned a corner in his development as an NHLer.

Related: New Jersey Devils Need Pavel Zacha to Repeat His 2020-21

Fast forward to 2021-22, and Zacha has continued to produce. He already has 12 goals in 46 games and is on pace to shatter his career numbers from last season. Playing primarily in the top six with Nico Hischier and either Jesper Bratt or Tomas Tatar, he has seen very little of the center ice position this season as he’s played on the wing most of the time. Even though he’s not producing at a Rantanen or Connor clip, he seems to have finally solidified his spot in the NHL as a legitimate top-nine forward after 362 games of work.

Scouting Report For Zacha, Then & Now

Before the 2015 Draft, Zacha was touted as a speedy power forward with a mean streak, soft hands and a lethal shot. He was a polarizing prospect though, ranked to go as high as sixth to as low as 15th. He ended up going sixth, so the Devils didn’t really reach too much selecting him where they did.

Now 24 years old and seven seasons into his NHL career, he still has that lethal shot, but it has not translated into a lot of goals. Compared to later picks like Connor, Rantanen, Timo Meier and Brock Boeser, who have multiple 20-goal seasons under their belts, he is miles behind. Instead of putting up a lot of goals on the first line, he has developed into a solid top-nine center/winger who is capable of controlling play with his size and scoring goals on the power play with his strong one-timer.

Unfortunately for the Devils and potentially the Canucks, he probably won’t ever become a top-line threat like J.T. Miller who can switch between center ice and the wing with relative ease and still be a massive producer offensively. Zacha will likely top out as a two-way third-line center/winger who puts up 20-25 goals a season while playing on both special teams. Which isn’t bad by any means if he can do it on a consistent basis.

Quotables

Then (Before 2015 Draft)

“A strong center with a variety ways to beat you, Zacha’s at his best when he’s unbridled in open ice and exploding up the ice as if he was shot out of a howitzer. He’s a devastating hitter who toes that line between acceptable and dirty. His physicality coupled with his speed are reasons why the seas in the offensive zone seem to part whenever he has the puck.” – The Draft Analyst

Now (2021-22 Season)

“I think he would do wonders with a change of scenery. This season he has been utilized as a winger, but is naturally a center and would do well as a middle-six player. He can play on the penalty kill and has one of the best shots that head coach Lindy Ruff has seen…He may be a gamble but in the right system, he could flourish and have a breakout season.” – Kristy Flannery, The Hockey Writers

Zacha’s Fit on the Canucks

If the Canucks got Zacha, he likely would be replacing Jason Dickinson, who has disappointed in his first season with the team. Acquired from the Dallas Stars in the offseason to shore up the third-line center position, he hasn’t lived up to the billing so far. Not only does he have zero offence at both center and wing, but he also hasn’t been able to win faceoffs or kill penalties.

Jason Dickinson, Vancouver Canucks
Jason Dickinson, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Zacha would help a bit on special teams and in the goals department, he might not move the needle very much when it comes to faceoffs or defensive play. Having said that, he is over 50 percent while Dickinson is at 43.4. In the end, he would be an upgrade on him now and in the future. He might also do what Dickinson was supposed to do when he joined the team, and that is add more offence to the bottom six.

Why Is Zacha on the Trade Block?

Not yet in his prime, why would the Devils be open to trading Zacha, a player they have invested nearly seven seasons in? Three players – Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer. More so Mercer, as he has quickly emerged as a valuable piece of the new core they are trying to build in New Jersey. Simply put, he has passed him on the depth chart after only 49 games in the NHL. Unless Zacha moves permanently to the wing and takes a discount on his next deal, he probably isn’t part of their long-term plans anymore.

Dawson Mercer, New Jersey Devils
Dawson Mercer, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils also need help on defence and the wing. With chips like Alexander Holtz and Luke Hughes not in play, Zacha is the most marketable asset they have to help shore up that deficiency. You have to trade something to get something, and he could net a substantial bounty if they add some prospects or picks to the package along with him.

What Would the Devils Want From the Canucks?

The Canucks are a team with assets to sell, but only for the right price. Casually mentioned by Rutherford in an interview with Scott Burnside on Tuesday, he won’t be rushed to trade any major players before the trade deadline. So, the Devils will have to pony up if they want one of Miller, Boeser or Garland.

Being a team in the middle of a rebuild and out of the playoff picture, the Devils won’t be part of the uber-premium bidding war that is one year of Miller and no guaranteed future beyond that. They could, however, be interested in Boeser or Garland. Except, as Stephan Roget over at Canucks Army stated for both of those players, “the value is off.”

Brock Boeser Vancouver Canucks
Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the Devils want Boeser or Garland, they will need to bring more than just Zacha to the party. In my mind, that is a first and second-round pick and a prospect like Kevin Bahl or Ty Smith OR a package including Zacha and a blue-chipper like Luke Hughes. Yes, that is what Rutherford should be looking at in trades involving either of those players.

So…Should the Canucks Actually Target Zacha?

Zacha is a restricted free agent (RFA) after this season and will be looking for a raise on his current $3 million average annual value (AAV) contract. Especially if he hits 20 goals before the end of 2021-22. If the Canucks do end up getting him in a trade, that might throw a wrench in things with Miller, Boeser and Bo Horvat’s deals coming to an end in the next couple of seasons. Unless one of them is included in the trade, of course.

Related: 3 Canucks Who Should Be Dealt Before the 2022 Trade Deadline

Also, Zacha isn’t really the answer to any of the Canucks’ immediate problems – scoring depth and defence. He doesn’t have a lot of upside offensively and he isn’t the top-nine pivot they really need. The ideal center for them is a Manny Malhotra-type that can win a lot of faceoffs, match up against the opposition’s top lines, kill penalties at an insane rate and score 10-15 goals a season. Basically, a lockdown center like they had during their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

Zacha fills only one of those four criteria. Unless he is part of a bigger trade that includes more valuable assets, I think they should hang up the phone and look elsewhere.

Sign up for our regular 'Canucks Newsletter' for all the latest.