It took some time but Pavel Zacha has found his niche for the New Jersey Devils. There were a lot of expectations on him when he entered the league back in the 2015-16 season, but things have not panned out for him. Unfortunately, for him, he was on some bad Devils teams. Plus not to mention, the team did not put him in a position to succeed. There was a reason why the Devils drafted him as high as they did. But for whatever reason, Zacha just did not put it all together until now. Let’s take a look at how Pavel Zacha has defined his role with the Devils in the 2020-21 season.
Pavel Zacha Found A Role With The Devils
The Devils took Zacha sixth overall in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. Zacha was a highly touted prospect from the Sarina Sting. The Devils were looking for depth down the middle and they thought they had found it with Zacha. In his first game with the Devils, Zacha recorded three points including his first NHL career goal. He was doing this playing alongside his childhood idol Patrik Elias. It was good for Zacha to have Elias around to show him the ropes of what life was like in the NHL. However, nobody thought Elias was going to retire after that game in April of 2016. However, he did not stick around and retired a year later from the NHL.
For Zacha, this was a tough transition. Not only that but he was being put into positions he was not ready for. He did not spend time in the Devils system learning how to play the North American style of game. While yes he did play juniors in Canada, playing in the NHL is a whole different ballgame, especially without the proper development. The team had depth at the centre position for him to play a season or two in the minors, however, there might have been some who thought that you can’t have the sixth overall pick playing in the AHL. Well, if the player wasn’t developed enough to play in the NHL, a stint in the AHL is justified.
Where It Turned Around For Zacha
Zacha did not have a bad first season playing recording 24 points (eight goals and 16 assists). And from there the number remained constant around 25 points. During the 2018-19 season, he hit a career-high in goals with 13. And during the 2019-20 season, he recorded a career-high 32 points. It might have been more if it was not for the pandemic. But it was during the 2018-19 season, where you saw signs of what Pavel Zacha could be.
After 12 games, where Zacha did not record a point for the Devils, the team sent him down to the AHL in Binghamton to refine his game. Prior to that Zacha was too inconsistent. And some of those inconsistencies still showed when he was recalled from the AHL. But he was a more confident player. Not only that he learned the system a little better and what the team expected of him when he returned to the big club. But where you noticed Zacha the most, was when he was put on the wing. Even though he was drafted as a centre, the Devils got the most out of Zacha on the wing, and that was done when he was in the AHL.
Zacha is off to the best start of his career. It is easy to forget that he is only 23-years old. And it takes time for players like Zacha to develop. He has a career-high nine-game point streak. Over that span, Zacha has recorded four goals and seven assists for 11 points. He is just two goals away from his total of last season while leading the Devils in scoring with 13 points (six goals and seven assists). Zacha is putting his best body of work together with the pressure on him the most. There was talk that this might have been Zacha’s last chance with the Devils before they decided to move on from him. He is proving that being patient pays off.
However, under head coach Lindy Ruff, Zacha has seen a lot more time on the left-wing alongside Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. His play-making abilities can shine the brightest there. While Zacha is not a bad centre, he is better suited to play the wing. That is not his fault, it just took the organization time to realize that is where he is most effective.
One thing is for sure. Pavel Zacha is coming into his own this season finding his role with the team like so many draft picks did after him.
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