Prior to the clock striking noon on Wednesday, the New Jersey Devils made a splash by trading forward Pavel Zacha to the Boston Bruins in exchange for 31-year-old Erik Haula. Devils fans should be excited about their newest forward who has one year left on his current contract with a $2.375 million cap hit. This is a rare situation where it’s a win-win for all parties including Zacha who finally gets the opportunity for a fresh start. Before discussing his departure, let’s talk a little bit about what fans can expect from Haula.
What Devils Fans Can Expect from Haula
At the conclusion of the 2021-22 season, general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald, head coach Lindy Ruff and forward Miles Wood discussed the team’s need for a veteran presence. Haula fits the bill having played nine seasons for six different organizations. The forward can bring a strong voice to New Jersey’s locker room, which is something that has been missing since Travis Zajac retired. Haula was part of the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season and has experienced not only the playoffs, but a Stanley Cup Final as well. Throughout his NHL journey, he also played with some of the most respected leaders in the league including Patrice Bergeron and Mikko Koivu. With his resume, he can definitely offer the intangibles that this team has been missing.
Ideal Fit for New Jersey’s Third Line
Last season, Haula scored 18 goals and finished with 44 points. He had a bit of a slow start to the season, but flourished once he found a home on the second line with Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak in January. I reached out to my colleague, Hannah Garfield, who covers the Boston Bruins to get her insight on the Devils’ newest addition.
“Haula performs at his highest level when he has consistent linemates,” she said. “Things seem to really click for him once he gets the opportunity to build that chemistry. As far as what Devils fans can expect, he can be counted on for 25-40 points and is an ideal third line center for New Jersey.”
A Physical Style of Play
The Finnish forward is a good role player who is known for his fearless game. Last season he registered 129 hits, which would have been third best on the Devils behind Nathan Bastian and Michael McLeod. According to Statmuse, the Devils finished last season with 1,561 hits – the second lowest in the league behind the Buffalo Sabres. The addition of another gritty player who is tough to play against can only strengthen the team’s bottom-six.
Haula is a versatile forward who can make an immediate impact both on the ice and in the locker room. It was a good move by the Devils GM to check off a few of the team’s needs. The 5-foot-11 forward will come to New Jersey knowing some of his new teammates, as he previously played with defenseman Dougie Hamilton in Carolina during the 2019-20 campaign.
The Best Scenario for Pavel Zacha
For the past couple of seasons I have said that Zacha would benefit from a change of scenery. The 25-year-old was the Devils’ sixth overall pick in 2015 and never developed into the player fans were hoping for. There was dark cloud that followed him throughout his time in New Jersey due to his draft selection and who the team passed on to pick him. Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal, and Kyle Connor were all selected after Zacha and it’s a fact fans have not forgotten.
Over the past six seasons, the Czech native could be counted on for 25-35 points. He was utilized throughout the lineup, but towards the end of last season found himself floating between the second and third line. There could be a great fit for him in Boston, as it is already being speculated that the 6-foot-3 forward could be placed on a line alongside Craig Smith and Charlie Coyle. A new environment with potentially less pressure is the fresh start that he has needed for quite some time. On Wednesday (July 13), Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney met with the media and discussed the potential he sees in Zacha.
“We just felt that Pavel Zacha was a player that we had targeted in the middle of the ice as a multi-positional-type player,” said Sweeney. “Younger [than Haula]. I feel there’s growth and potential there moving forward. We hope to be able to find a deal with him being a part of the organization now and beyond; that remains to be seen how long that is. But, we’ll attack that right away. Just felt like it was an opportunity for now and potentially moving forward. We identified a player that fit into our organization that we’re excited about.”
Fans knew changes were coming in New Jersey, and the writing was on the wall that Zacha did not fit into Fitzgerald’s future plans. Haula helps strengthen the team’s forward group and provides depth that the Devils desperately need if they hope to be a playoff contender next season.