New Jersey Devils: New Hope for Pavel Zacha on the Horizon?

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Drafted by the New Jersey Devils sixth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Pavel Zacha is entering his third full season and has yet to provide any genuine assurance that his selection was worthwhile, especially when you look at how well players drafted after him—Matthew Barzal, Mikko Rantanen, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski—are doing. Going into 2018-2019, Zacha has scored no more than eight goals or 25 points in either of his first two campaigns, which didn’t stop Coach Hynes from giving him a golden opportunity to take that pivotal next step forward by centering the second line.

Concerns were quickly mounting when Zacha failed to register a single point in his first 10 games, resulting in his AHL demotion for about two weeks, before being called back up in mid-November.

Just to clarify, my faith in Zacha has been teetering back and forth over the last 12-16 months. During the offseason, I cited a few centers who had slow starts to their NHL careers that have since become mainstays on their current teams as reason for why Devils fans should be patient with Zacha. On the contrary, my faith in the former Sarnia Sting forward sharply declined after his demotion earlier this season, during which I expressed concerns over how his window of opportunity in the NHL was closing.

After Saturday night’s victory where Zacha scored his sixth goal of the season, the 21-year old may have yet again revived the fading hopes of myself and others in the Devils community, thanks to his two-point performance.

In 32 games this season, Zacha has six goals and seven points, which doesn’t seem like much at first glance. If you retract his first 10 games and look at Zacha’s stats since being called back up, he’s tallied six goals in 22 contests, which equates to a pace of about 22 goals over an 82-game span.

More from Pucks and Pitchforks

Let’s also look at how Zacha has six goals to date, compared to his career-high of just eight in his first two campaigns. He’s on pace to set new career-highs for himself (currently on pace to score about 15 goals between now and April), which isn’t the monumental leap we all probably hoped Zacha would take this year, but is a notable improvement. Throw in his improving face-off skills and superb penalty killing, it makes Zacha’s situation a lot more intriguing compared to how it might appear on the outside.

Having said that, it’s worth noting how Zacha has largely scored in spurts this year. He needed 12 games to get his first goal of the season and had a 13-game drought before his recent uptick in production over the last four games. Although it may seem weak, my response would be to point out how such lengthy goal or point droughts are inevitably experienced by the vast majority of NHL players, whether they’re superstars or complimentary assets.

How Goaltending Became Lou Lamoriello’s Lasting Footprint. dark. Next

Just to clarify, I don’t necessarily think Zacha’s recent performance indicates a genuine turnaround or that monumental breakout we hoped he would have this season. Having said that, Zacha’s recent play has definitely warranted Devils fans and writers to reserve final judgment on the former first-round pick as he’s shown flashes of turning into an established NHL forward. While I’m still hesitant about saying Zacha will eclipse what the aforementioned players in his draft class selected after him have achieved, his play since being called up has made me veer away from officially declaring him a bust.