When you play 500 games in the NHL with the same team, it is something special. That should tell you everything you need to know about players reaching the 1000th game mark with one franchise. Travis Zajac is about to do that on Sunday with the New Jersey Devils. The first 999 have been eventful for him. He has been one of the greatest players in the history of the Devils.
Zajac was never a guy who wowed anyone with monster offensive numbers, but he played consistently in all three zones. He certainly hasn’t been a slouch when it comes to the offense either. He recorded 197 goals and 337 assists for 534 points in the first 999 games. He has also received Selke Trophy votes seven times over his 15-year career. He does what he needs to do in the offensive zone, but he takes care of his business in the defensive zone.
Zajac’s numbers were pretty similar in the postseason. In 57 career playoff games, he has 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points. He has always shown up when needed and it showed early in his career when the Devils were a perennial playoff team. Since then, he has been there to help the young guys take the next step. There couldn’t be a better pro for young centers like Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes to learn from than Travis Zajac.
Playing 1000 games with New Jersey is rare air. Only three men have done that before him. Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur, and Patrik Elias were the only ones, and they all have their numbers sitting in the rafters of the Prudential Center. Zajac will become the fourth Sunday afternoon. When you think about those other three guys, you see Devils greatness and Zajac deserves a similar level of respect. The winning wasn’t there as much during the Zajac era but he has still been great for so long.
Reaching that milestone is rare for his 2004 Draft class so far as well. The only other player to do it will be on the opposing team today in Alex Ovechkin. As the 20th-overall pick (Ovechkin went first), that is a great thing. Blake Wheeler, Evgeni Malkin, and David Krejci are the candidates to be the next ones from that class after Zajac.
Zajac is ranked fourth on the Devils all-time goal list, tied for fifth in assists with Scott Stevens, and third in total points. With rankings like that (and still counting), it is hard to imagine Zajac not going down as one of the ten best Devils. Out of anyone, he might be next in line to have his number retired. Sometimes, you don’t need the gaudy statistics to be known as one of the best in your team’s history. Zajac deserves a lot of credit for reaching this milestone as he has been a great player and leader for a long time.