Even though he’s just 69 games into his NHL career, New Jersey Devils rookie Dawson Mercer (1st Rd, 2020, 18th pick) has already proved that he is more valuable to the franchise than another first-round pick on their roster. Well more than one, but specifically for this article, Pavel Zacha.
Mercer, at the ripe, old age of 20, has already surpassed Zacha’s career-high of 35 points in a season – which was achieved last season in 50 games. New Jersey’s lone ironman this season (everyone else has missed at least one game) has 22 assists and has 13 games remaining to eclipse Zacha’s career-best of 24 helpers (2019-20). Mercer’s emergence makes Zacha expendable, and in the best-case scenario, he would be part of a package that GM Tom Fitzgerald puts together to get his Devils team a legitimate NHL goaltender that can backstop a rising team to new heights.
Ideally, someone really good would be at their wit’s end with their current NHL team and demand a trade like Patrick Roy and Nikolai Khabibulin did back in the day. Someone like John Gibson in Anaheim or Jordan Binnington in St. Louis. Maybe they can pry Linus Ullmark from Boston (with Jake DeBrusk) or bring in Braden Holtby on a short-term contract to provide some stability in the crease that has been fractured for the better part of the last three seasons. Next season there has to be someone who is severely better than the seven that played this season in goal for the Devils.
Mercer (thank you, Taylor Hall, for not wanting to sign long-term in New Jersey, and thank you Coyotes for the draft pick) has proven his versatility this season, starting as a center and later shifting to the wing with Jack Hughes. We’ve seen him grow as a player already, in less than a full season, more than Zacha has. He’s given the team a jolt of energy and given fans even more reason to be excited about the near future.
Add Mercer to the core you have of Hughes, Nico Hischier, Luke Hughes, Dougie Hamilton, Yegor Sharangovich, and Jonas Siegenthaler and that’s a nice starting point. Imagine adding one of the goalies mentioned above or DeBrusk and Ullmark? Would the Bruins part with those two for a package of Zacha, Miles Wood, Jonathan Bernier’s contract & a draft pick? Maybe not, but it would be worth a phone call at least to find out.
A change of scenery would be good for Zacha I think, and I know it may seem like I’ve railed on him a bit here. But the Devils don’t need a player (who they drafted top-10, yes it matters) that is going to average 25-40 points per season. At least not at the price he is going to want. Maybe on another team, adding him as their third or fourth center will complement other players well.
The Devils have too many prospects coming up the pipeline to have Zacha clogging their path to the NHL. Wood and Michael McLeod are probably in that category as well. Alexander Holtz is on his way, as are Nolan Foote, Chase Stillman, Graeme Clark, Fabian Zetterlund, Tyce Thompson, Patrick Moynihan, and others.