Despite the shortened season, some New Jersey Devils players put up solid stats in 2020-21, including Pavel Zacha, who had a breakout campaign. Zacha regained his momentum from the end of last season when he played 65 games, netting eight goals and 24 assists. His main problem was that in his first three years in the league, he was never able to maintain his consistency.
However, in the past couple of seasons, Zacha has shown tremendous improvement in terms of his scoring ability. Last season, he was finally able to crack 30 points for the first time in his career. While the achievement at the time seemed minuscule, it was the kind of season that he needed in order to prove his worth towards the organization and fan base. His scoring stats could have been higher; however, the rest of the 2019-20 season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was definitely a disappointing way for him to end his season because he didn’t get the full 82 games to pad his stats. However, despite the mid-season changes in the front office and coaching staff, Zacha finished the 2019-20 campaign on a respectable note, with four points (two goals, two assists) in his last five games before the pandemic shut everything down.
Heading into this season, the Devils had a lot of question marks. This was mainly due to them being a rebuilding organization with a new head coach in Lindy Ruff. One of the questions that surrounded the Devils organization was whether or not Zacha could keep his momentum from last season. Despite getting off to a bad start, Zacha stayed somewhat consistent throughout the season and surprised many, though he continues to be scapegoated by many Devils fans.
The Devils drafted sixth overall at 2015 Draft. Despite being a top-10 pick, as a center (who can play on the wing), he may have fallen a bit, given the talented centers in his draft class selected ahead of him: Connor McDavid (first overall), Jack Eichel (second), and Mitchell Marner (fourth). All of them are former All-Stars, which doesn’t help his case in terms of showing his value and potential. Because, in comparison, he obviously isn’t on the same platform in terms of value as those players that were just listed.
Zacha will always draw comparisons to the other draft selections taken before him. This also gives him an unfair disadvantage because he is held to a different standard. The reason for that is because the 2015 NHL Draft class is regarded as “the best draft class this decade.” While he’s a good player with plenty of upside, Zacha hasn’t produced the same type of scoring numbers from other players from that draft.
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However, by no means is he a bust, and at 24 years old, he still has room for improvement. In the last nine games of the season, Zacha had 10 points (seven goals, three assists) playing on the “captain line” with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt.
True Impact This Season
This season, Zacha thrived under Ruff’s system. He led the Devils in points (35) and tied with Miles Wood for the lead in goals (17), both career-highs. New Jersey ranked 28th in power-play percentage (14.19 percent), but Zacha was a bright spot. He led the team in power-play goals (five) and points (11). There’s a lot more that Zacha can add to his game in order to make himself and the Devils’ roster better. While he did well on the power play, he can certainly improve his 5-on-5 production because nine of his goals did come at even strength (fourth on the team).
It seems as though he wasn’t afraid to shoot puck either because he had 103 shots on goal in 50 games, an average of just above two shots per game. So, it’s only a matter of time before Zacha really starts to elevate his game to another level. Overall, Zacha’s improvement and potential need to be appreciated a bit more because these past couple of seasons have shown that he’s taking steps forward in his development. Even though there’s more work to be done, he’s starting to head in the right direction.
Trey Matthews is currently the play-by-play announcer for the hockey programs at Adrian College. Interestingly, he is also one of the only full-time black hockey play-by-play announcers in the entire country. He has been featured in USA Today, USCHO, & others for his line of work. In addition to that, he’s also the host of a podcast show called Locked On Devils. He first began writing for his high school’s paper at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy. Aside from hockey, he also covers the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) for Belly Up Sports.