As the trade deadline inches closer, rumors will continue to swirl about which players might be moved on or before March 21. In the spirit of one of the most hectic days in the hockey calendar, I have put together a mini-series breaking down players the New Jersey Devils could move and what contending teams should expect from these players. The next player we will dissect is forward Pavel Zacha.
Zacha’s Long Tenure With Devils
Next to Damon Severson, Pavel Zacha is one of the longest-tenured players on the team. He was drafted sixth overall in 2015 and made his Devils debut on April 9, 2016, recording two assists against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He had to wait until the 2016-17 season to become a regular in New Jersey’s lineup, appearing in 70 games for 24 points.
Related: Devils’ Damon Severson Trade Deadline Profile
Zacha has been plagued with a dark cloud since he was drafted, as fans have waited impatiently for his breakout season. Players drafted after him include the Colorado Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen and Winnipeg Jets’ Kyle Connor, whose 32 goals are tied for fourth in the league. Zacha has consistently improved and earned at least 25 points in all but his rookie season. They say high expectations result in big disappointments, which I think applies to the 6-foot-3 forward and his time with the Devils. Keeping that in mind, I don’t think a change of scenery would necessarily be a bad thing for the 24-year-old.
What Zacha Brings
His Versatility on Offense
Zacha was advertised as a center but has been utilized as a winger. Head coach Lindy Ruff has moved him up and down the lineup this season, playing him with a variety of linemates. He started strong, with five goals in his first 10 games, but he’s been streaky since then, including going 10 games without a goal in December. New Jersey has a ton of depth at center with Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Dawson Mercer, Michael McLeod, and Jesper Boqvist. This was one of the reasons that Zacha was shifted to the wing. He has taken 200 faceoffs this season, winning 103 for a faceoff win percentage of 51.5, which is comparable to the Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho and Adrian Kempe of the LA Kings.
The most notable change in Zacha’s game the past few months has been his conditioning. He admitted in training camp that last season he struggled with longer shifts, but his skating has been much better this season, and the coaching staff praised his play earlier in the 2021-22 campaign.
“I’m seeing him [Zacha] as a big part of our success. He is shooting the puck really well and had a shot on the power play that only a few guys can put it there,” said Ruff earlier this season. “Pav (Zacha) has proven he is one of them.”
Power Play Production
The Czech Republic native is tied for the team lead with four power-play goals this season. He started the season on the top unit, but was replaced by Nathan Bastian and moved to the second. He’s proven he is still effective and scored his team’s second goal on the man advantage on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. In 367 career games, he has 50 power-play points.
Efficiency on the Penalty Kill
At one time, Zacha was a key part of his team’s penalty kill. During the 2018-19 season, he averaged 2:10 of short-handed ice time behind Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman. Since that season, his time has steadily dropped, and part of the reason is the emergence of Hischier and Michael McLeod. Forward Jimmy Vesey made the team this season after signing a professional tryout and has played a crucial role when the team finds themselves short-handed. Zacha’s minimal role does not prove he is incapable of playing those minutes, and he could be a good piece for a team with a struggling penalty kill.
Why The Devils Would Trade Him
The versatile forward led the Devils last season with 35 points, including 17 goals, which were tied for the team lead along with Miles Wood. Ruff has previously told the media that Zacha has one of the best shots he has seen. So, why would the Devils look to move him? The simple answer is there may not be room for him. Believe it or not, at 24 years old, he is one of the older core forwards on the team. He has consistently gotten the job done but has yet to have that breakout performance fans have been waiting for.
Frank Seravalli reported that Zacha has been linked to the Vancouver Canucks, specifically involving a trade for Brock Boeser. The fact is, the Devils are not where they need to be in the standings, and in order to get a substantial return, they will have to give up a player with value. As I previously stated, a change of scenery could open up the flood gates and lead to the performance that Devils fans have hoped for. Compared to other forwards on the team, like Bratt, the loss of Zacha would not hinder New Jersey’s rebuild.
Zacha Worth Taking a Chance On
Zacha is in the middle of his seventh NHL season and, at a young age, could become a crucial piece for an organization close to winning a Stanley Cup. He is under contract until the 2022-23 season with an annual cap hit of $2.2 million and will be a restricted free agent at the end of his deal. On the ice, he could be a good fit for the Canucks, Minnesota Wild, or St. Louis Blues. He is a talented and versatile player who could flourish with a new organization if given the opportunity.