New Jersey Devils Prospects: Pavel Zacha Profile


The New Jersey Devils selected Pavel Zacha 6th overall in the 2015 NHL draft with the hopes that he would be a key player in the Devils’ rebuild. The Czech forward has the size, speed and skill to become a star in this league. Before coming to North America Zacha was playing for Liberec in the Czech Extraliga as a 16-year old, where he was able to score four goals and four assists in 38 games while playing against men. It marked an impressive feat for Zacha and earned him the top selection in the 2014 CHL import draft.

Zacha did not have the most successful season for his new team, the Sarnia Sting; he only scored 16 goals and 18 assists in 37 games while struggling to stay in the lineup due to injuries, suspensions (related to on-ice discipline) and international play. One drawback to Zacha is that he lost some crucial developmental time last season and will need some more playing time to further adjust to the style of play in North America. On the bright side, there are numerous players who have also needed a full season to transition to the North American style after leaving Europe.

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For example, Ivan Barbashev was also the first player selected in the 2012 CHL import draft by the Moncton WildCats. He only scored 18 goals and 44 assists in 68 games, a .91 points per game pace. That clip is the same as Zacha’s OHL point per game pace. The following season Barbashev significantly upped his play, scoring 25 goals and 43 assists in 48 games for a 1.4 points per game pace. Leon Draisaitl was selected 2nd overall in the 2012 CHL import draft by the Prince Albert Raiders. Draisaitl was only able to score 21 goals and 37 assists in 64 games for a .90 points per game pace. In the following season he scored 105 points in 64 games for a 1.6 points per game pace. Clearly, it is not uncommon for European players to struggle in their first season on North American ice.

It all really comes down to the player and how fast they are able to adjust. Every player develops differently but these numbers are pretty encouraging. I believe if Zacha plays in Sarnia for the 2015-16 season he could enjoy a breakout season to the tune of 30-40 goals and 50-60 assists.

There is also a good chance that Zacha plays in the NHL this year. He will get a good long look in training camp and preseason and it is up to Zacha to prove to Shero and the coaching staff that he’s ready to play in the NHL, as Ray Shero has said. If he does play on the Devils this upcoming season he would most likely play on the top two lines. The Devils drafted him to be a center but I don’t believe he is ready to play top line minutes as a center in the NHL just yet. His defensive game is still a work in progress so it would be a big mistake to play him at center right now.

“Zacha’s biggest strengths are his skating and ability to beat defenders one-on-one; he has a skill set that’s hard to handle and will become an offensive force as he develops. Like most offensive stars, Zacha still needs to work on his defensive game, but the heady Czech will add that to his repertoire for “ – Mark Siedel

The Devils should slot him on either the left wing or right wing (where he played in Sarnia last year) with defensively responsible players such as Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias or Adam Henrique. This will allow Zacha to focus more on his offensive game and not worry too much about being defensively responsible. With these accommodations, Zacha will be able to ease into the NHL and remove some of the pressure that is currently riding him. Giving Zacha fourth line minutes as opposed to top line minutes in Sarnia would be a huge mistake.

I wouldn’t expect Zacha to light it up or even be in the Calder trophy contention this year but if all things go well I can see him putting up a decent amount of points. If he plays a full season, 10-15 goals and 15-20 assists would be respectable numbers as a rookie. As I see it, it would be best for Zacha to play at least one more year in Sarnia and play top-line minutes to develop. With the Devils in a rebuild, there is no point to rush Zacha since they won’t be in contention for the Stanley cup any time soon.

What do you think? Is Zacha ready for the NHL or is the OHL the right choice for now? Let me know and also vote on who you think the Devils’ second best prospect is. Thanks for reading!

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