Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will honor longtime forward Travis Zajac on his career and playing 1,000 NHL games with the Devils. He reached the impressive milestone on Feb. 21, 2021, against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. It was a memorable moment for the 6-foot-3 center who took a solo lap ahead of warmups to celebrate. His team may have lost the game, but it did not take away from his individual achievement.
“It wasn’t the result we hoped for. Nonetheless, it was a special moment for me and one I’ll never forget,” Zajac said. “The guys and the organization did just a great job really making it a memorable event for me. It’s definitely something I’ll never forget.”
Zajac will finally get the celebration he deserves as the team will host a ceremony prior to puck drop against the visiting Winnipeg Jets. Fans are thrilled to be in attendance as the organization honors the latest player to join Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur, and Patrik Elias in the 1,000 game club.
“It is great to see Travis get the send-off he deserves,” said Devils’ fan Josh Reinitz. “He gave so much to the fans in New Jersey and is one of the best two-way players in franchise history.”
A Long Career with the Devils
Zajac made his Devils debut in October of 2006. At that time, “The Departed” was the number one movie in theaters and Justin Timberlake debuted SexyBack. Current goaltender Nico Daws was only six-years-old when the Winnipeg native celebrated his first NHL goal. Zajac’s impressive career includes 203 goals, 552 points, and a faceoff win percentage of 53.8. He was once part of the “ZZ Pops” line alongside Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner and scored crucial goals on the team’s quest to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.
During his tenure with the club, he saw the organization undergo changes from top to bottom where it had 11 different head coaches and three different general managers. Zajac graciously transformed from an eager rookie to a reliable veteran who helped young centers like Michael McLeod and Nico Hischier. He embodied what it meant to be a Devil and because of his professionalism on and off the ice, gained the respect of New Jersey fans.
Zajac’s Transistion From Player to Player Development
After announcing his retirement, Zajac made the decision to continue working with the organization in an on/off-ice player development and consulting role, while also working to grow the club’s youth hockey initiatives. He has been spotted at various practices this season watching the team and bestowing his knowledge of the game to a new generation of players.
“He’s probably one of the better two-way players that has ever played here,” Ruff said after a recent practice. “He knows how to play the game, right. (He) was a real good face-off player. So he’s been awesome. He’s been sitting in our meetings, and he goes out there, and he works with young guys and talks to them, about a lot of different situations. And I think he’s garnered a lot of respect, just for the fact that he just came off playing.”
Zajac’s goal is to be a positive influence at practice and rookie Dawson Mercer is enjoying his insight and presence at the rink considering the two share a similar role. After practice, the youngster told the media that it’s great to have good energy on the ice and described Zajac as someone who is always smiling. Fans agree that the veteran will be a positive influence on the young Devils, especially their core.
“In my opinion, Travis has a lot of valuable advice and insight into the game of hockey that he can impart to the young players on this team.,” said season ticket holder Diane Kuhn. “It was a great move by management making sure Travis had a behind-the-scenes role after his retirement. Having him around this young core of players can only be beneficial to the team.”
Thank You, Travis
The best way to learn how impactful a player was for an organization is to talk to the fans who supported him. For 15 seasons Zajac entertained fans on the ice and had memorable interactions off the ice whether it was a meet-and-greet or running into them on his days off. While the organization is preparing its own ceremony for the Winnipeg native, I wanted to give fans a chance to thank the longtime Devil for his continued dedication to the organization.
Gab DiCarlo: “Thank you Travis for being not just a great hockey player but for being an incredible person on and off the ice, especially while interacting with your fans. It was a blast watching you grow from a young rookie to the veteran leader that you became. You truly embodied what it means to be a true Devil.”
Tom Saja: “Thank you, Travis, for all the hard work and wonderful memories you gave us throughout the years. Some players just know how to bring out the best in their teammates and fans, and that was you on a nightly basis. You will forever be a Devil.”
Candice Polichetti: “Thank you for being so gracious with your time at all your meet-and-greets. You’re a great guy I am so happy you retired as a New Jersey Devil!”
Jim McGrath: “Travis you are a true New Jersey Devil. Your performance on the ice, whether it was shutting down the opposing team’s top forward, or scoring a timely goal is equaled by how you carried yourself off of it. You are one of the best Devils in franchise history. Thank you for giving us your very best on a nightly basis.”
Kaitlyn Keith: “Thank you Travis for all the years of keeping us entertained. You were truly one of the best parts of our team. Once a Devil, Always a Devil. Good luck with your retirement!”
Emily LeBoeuf: “Thank you Travis for all the support over the years at Sports Minded Unlimited, you were always so amazing with the fans. Thank you for bringing your A-game every night and giving your all for the New Jersey Devils organization each season. We are all so thankful you are back and helping out when needed. It might be a black tracksuit, but having you here means the world to all of us.”
The last time Travis Zajac traveled to Winnipeg as a member of the Devils was on Nov. 5, 2019. Tonight marks the second time the Devils will be facing the Jets and will look for retribution as they suffered an 8-4 loss in early December. Coverage will begin at 6:30 ET on MSG+.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.