New Jersey Devils Roster: Pavel Zacha should go back to juniors


As the New Jersey Devils move through training camp, the opening night roster begins to take form rather quickly. Among the many x-factors on the current roster, one player sticks out most, both for his size and situation. That player is Pavel Zacha.

After scoring 34 points in 37 games, Zacha earned himself the sixth overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft. As GM Ray Shero’s first draft selection at the helm, Zacha was intended to be the team’s bona fide first line center of the future. While it’€™s still too early to tell on that front, Zacha’€™s play has certainly passed the eye test.

It has begged the question: will Zacha forgo his CHL eligibility in 2015-16 to play in the big leagues? Of course, that decision will not be in the Czech’s hands but rather management’€™s. Shero has been rather concrete on the matter, declaring that Zacha will need to earn a roster spot.

Zacha’s had a handful of opportunities thus far. At rookie camp Zacha stood a man among boys but did not play as such. His imposing style of play that shined through in Sarnia and the World Junior€™s was not showcased when donning Devils’€™ red in July.

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Entering preseason, Zacha has the opportunity to play with higher caliber linemates but has still had trouble making his presence felt. Part of that could be his relative inexperience and some can be attributed to the low-stakes nature of preseason, but he should be one of the players shining right now.

Take, for example, last year when Reid Boucher dominated in preseason. Knowing that a main roster role was in the balance, Boucher had multiple points playing on Adam Henriques wing.

Zacha does not have the same pressure that Boucher had because of his draft position, but he should not be mostly invisible on the ice. Zacha’s best assets are his pure skill and size and that should be noticeable each and every time he takes the ice. But it hasn’t been. Instead, teammates and coach John Hynes are being ambivalent about Zacha’s play so far.

Zacha in his Sarnia days. Why not give him another year?

There are many players making a name for themselves so far in camp, notably Lee Stempniak and Tyler Kennedy. If Zacha wants a roster spot, he will need to prove to coaches that he is more worthy of a forward spot than the two training camp invitees.

What are the benefits of Zacha staying in the NHL this year if he can’t play at the same level as his teammates? Dragging his teammates down and struggling on a bad team will not much help Zacha’s development. Sure, the NHL can be a crash course on professionalism for some, but those lessons could go to Zacha next year when he is more ready.

A lot of people like to mention Zacha’s desire to play with his statesman and long-time hero, Patrik Elias. It makes for a nice narrative and I for one was ecstatic to see Zacha enticed by the Devils earlier in the draft process. That said, I am okay with disallowing the two from getting to play together if that is what’s best for Zacha.

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The Devils of late offer little allegiance to their veterans, much less their rookies. In the past two months alone the organization decided not to re-up with fan-favorite Scott Gomez and bought out longtime-vet Dainius Zubrus. Why would they care about Zacha playing with Elias if the former would be better suited in the CHL?

Zacha going straight to the CHL after being signed is the best option. Dominating in a league of youngsters for one more year will help Zacha’€™s confidence and it will help him to add finesse to his game. It is rare for a player to be an offensive dynamo after struggling to muster a point per game in juniors.

Zacha’€™s quest to reach his potential is surely an uphill battle. He has not enjoyed the productivity that other successful players have had. That said, Zacha’s combo of size and skill are too overwhelming for him not to thrive. At the end of the day, it seems that management is ready to do what is best for Zacha and the team and at this junction that decision seems to be clear: send him back to the OHL.

Next: Should there be more moves to come for New Jersey?