New Jersey Devils: Pavel Zacha’s Solid Play Continues Past Point Streak

Mar 9, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha (37) skates with the puck against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha (37) skates with the puck against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /
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Has there been a more polarizing player in the New Jersey Devils organization the past few seasons than Pavel Zacha? Touted by many as a top prospect in what turned out to be a loaded first round in 2015, Zacha was selected sixth overall by New Jersey. However, most Devils faithful would like to forget that term “sixth overall.” Following his draft year, the Czech born forward was sent back to the Sarnia Sting of the OHL to finish his junior career. He made his NHL debut in the Devils’ last game of the year in 2016 and rightfully earned a spot on the team’s roster for 2016-17.

Unfortunately for the young Zacha, his career has not turned out to be typical of a sixth-overall pick. His play never exceeded that of a bottom-six forward. That looked to be continuing down the same path this season, when he was forced into a second-line role with now Devils captain, Nico Hischier out nursing a broken fibula. Zacha had just two goals to show for his efforts through seven games. He was also one of the first casualties of a mightily struggling penalty kill when the coaching staff removed him from one of the few roles he showed promise in last season.

Fast forward 10 games later, and Zacha was the owner of a 10-game point streak, tying him for the sixth-longest point streak in the team’s history. He collected 12 points in those 10 games, including a show-stopping three-point effort against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 25 which featured an overtime game-winner.

Myself included, many did not expect Zacha to keep up the pace. Even Taylor Hall’s superior point streak in 2018 came to an end. Yes, Zacha was obviously never going to finish the season on a 39-game point streak, but many were curious to see if his high level of play would continue, and it has.

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Zacha has had good stretches of play throughout his young career, but none felt quite like this one, and his continued strong play has shown that. Often switched between center and wing depending on what the team needed, nobody has ever doubted the tools that Zacha has in his toolbelt. He’s a big body, has good legs, a wicked wrist shot, and great hockey sense. Unfortunately in the past, he hasn’t quite understood how to “bring it” every night. It’s not a lack of effort, it appears to be a mentality that pro athletes learn to have; a mentality to show up and be the best you can be, every single game. It seems like he’s figured that out this year.

Since the end of the 10-game point streak, Zacha has tallied just 2 assists in eight games entering play against the Sabres on Tuesday. He is also hovering around a CF% of just 47 in those games. However, I don’t quite trust some of the numbers here. Having watched these games, Zacha is more engaged in play than seasons past. Towards the end of the 10-game point streak, he was playing arguably the best hockey of his career on a line with Hischier and Jesper Bratt. Once Hischier returns, I’d expect that line to be reunited.

Now, nobody is saying that Zacha has finally “arrived”, but his play this year has definitely been up a few ticks from previous years. The points will never rack up for him like we thought in the summer of 2015, but the Devils will certainly be a much better team moving forward if he can contribute around 50 points in an 82-game season. He’s more than capable.