Everybody in New Jersey knew somebody had to do it.
It was only a matter of who.
After losing Zach Parise to free agency in the off-season, the New Jersey Devils knew they would need to get consistent goal scoring from somebody this season, but it was just a question as to who that player would be.
Two games into the 2013 season, the quick answer to that question is center Travis Zajac. Fresh off a new, eight-year deal he signed days before the season started, Zajac has scored goals in the wins over the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, quickly becoming the top-goal scoring threat for the Devils.
Zajac, who has played on the top line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus in the first two games of the season, appears to have fresh legs after missing significant time last year with an Achilles injury.
It’s certainly unlikely that Zajac, even in a full NHL season, would be able to match Parise’s 31 goals from last year, but he might be able to contribute in different ways this time around. If he stays healthy, he’ll be able to provide Kovalchuk with a true passer and centerman throughout the season, something that could benefit the two of them points-wise.
Zajac has never put up more than 25 goals in a season — he did that in 2009-2010 — but since he came to New Jersey in 2006, he has progressively gotten better, especially in the face-off circle.
This season, the Devils would be thrilled if Zajac, who is now under contract until 2020-2021, could register roughly 20 goals, along with becoming the best face-off winner for New Jersey again.
Both of Zajac’s goals in 2013 are demonstrative of the type of player he has developed into. He beat Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov on a two-on-one, taking a saucer pass from Kovalchuk and slipping it into the net.
On Thursday, Mattias Tedenby practiced on New Jersey’s first line with Zajac and Kovalchuk, while Zubrus moved to the second line, where he spent last season, to play with Patrik Elias and David Clarkson.
Tedenby has displayed his speed in the past, and he might be a play-maker, like Zajac, away from becoming a full-time NHL player.
The Devils lost a lot when Parise opted to head out to the Minnesota Wild, but they may have gained some extra hidden star power in the process, too.