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Pavel Zacha: 2015 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

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Pavel Zacha is a big body with a lot of offensive skill to speak of, but with a game that could use some cleaning up around the edges. Is the Czech centerman an option for the Devils at pick #6?

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Who is Pavel Zacha?

Pavel Zacha is a center who hails from the Czech Republic and played this past season with the OHL's Sarnia Sting. Zacha arrived in North America this season after working his way up to the pros in the Czech leagues before that. After reaching the top professional league in the Czech Republic as just a 16 year-old, Zacha established himself as a highly coveted prospect, leading to him being selected first overall in the CHL import draft. There was some question of whether Zacha would make the move to North America at first, with agent/Zacha's adviser Allan Walsh going so far as to say Sarnia "wasted their pick," Just over a month later, though, Zacha's transition to Canadian juniors was confirmed. His career numbers up to this point are shown below.

Zacha's first season in the OHL came in a little bit on the disappointing side, compared to expectations, but he remains a highly touted prospect around draft circles. Ultimately, injuries, suspensions, and World Juniors prevented Zacha from ever getting in a rhythm this season and his talent remains clear in spite of the bumpy season. Among the rankings, Zacha landed at #8 among North American skaters for NHL's Central Scouting, #10 in the ISS rankings, #13 at Future Considerations, and #11 in Corey Pronman's final list. So he figures to go somewhere right at the edge of the top-ten, come draft day.

Pavel Zacha's skill set is one that earns him a lot of praise and it's easy to understand why. He is a big body, but he has lots of offensive skill to go along with it. He is strong in almost every facet of the game on offense, with a plus shot, great passing, and speed and agility as a skater. His adjustment to the North American game is ongoing to an extent and his production could be better, but draft experts remain very optimistic about his skill set. The one knock on his game seems to be that he is still figuring things out in the defensive end, where his positioning and instincts could use some work. He figures to go high in this draft, though, and projects to have real potential as a top centerman on an NHL team.

What Others are Saying About Pavel Zacha

At Elite Prospects, Curtis Joe's blurb serves as a good starting point on what scouts like about Zacha:

Pavel Zacha is an offensively dynamic center with the size, speed, and skill to make a significant impact on the game. He can play physical, but is at his best when using his high-end offensive abilities, such as his shot, stickhandling, and footspeed, to generate numbers in the opposition's end of the ice. All-in-all, Zacha is a lethal weapon that can be depended upon to create, and finish, dangerous scoring chances whenever he is on the ice. (Curtis Joe, EP 2015)

The combination of size and skill is always one that will be coveted by NHL teams. The impression is that he has all of the necessary tools to become a great NHL forward, with the ability to create and also finish chances.

Ben Kerr over at Last Word on Sports has a good profile that echos a lot of that praise of Zacha's offensive game and has this to add:

Pavel Zacha is a good skater with a powerful stride.  He has outstanding acceleration and the ability to change speeds to fool defenders.  His top end speed is also very good.  Zacha has great agility and edgework, and can combine this with his stickhandling to get past defenders.  His balance and power are also good and he wins board battles and fights through checks.

On Zacha's defensive game, Kerr indicates that there is some room for improvement:

Zacha’s defensive game is a work in progress.  As a centre, he still needs plenty of work in the face-off circle.  He also needs to back check more effectively, as he struggles in knowing where to support the defence down low.  Its not really due to lack of effort in the defensive zone, but he continues to need time to learn how to play the game defensively in the small rink.

With a combination of size, speed, and effort, it seems like the big Czech should be able to put together at least a passable defensive game in the future, but for now it may need some cleaning up. Overall, Zacha comes across as a very talented player, but one who may remain a shade on the "raw" side.

Lastly, comes an interesting piece on Zacha from Sportsnet's Arden Zwelling that gets into a little bit of his hockey background, including his time playing with Petr Nedved and how Nedved helped convince him to come to America (it also mentions how Zacha first started learning English from the subtitles on the movie Dumb and Dumber, which I thought was great). There are also some quotes from his coach in there about Zacha's adjustment to North American hockey, his reaction to a couple suspensions for hits that happened in quick succession in November, and his work ethic and passion for the game.

"He was a little snake-bit early. He’s just used to playing a different system, a different style. The game’s played a lot more direct over here," says Sarnia’s coach, Trevor Letowski, who played in both the NHL and Europe himself. "But he’s so eager to learn; he works so hard. And he was really starting to come along. I was just waiting for him to break out and have a big night. You could feel it coming. But the suspensions kind of hurt his momentum."

...

"He’s got an edge to his game; he plays hard. And I really don’t want him to lose that," Letowski says. "But it has to be controlled."

...

"It was a frustrating time for him," Letowski says. "He’s the type of player who wants it—wants it so bad. He wants to be a difference-maker. To score that big goal."

This sort of builds on the picture for Zacha. He definitely has the ability and the will to be a great player, he just needs to refine his game somewhat to fully realize that potential.

Some Video

First comes a video from YouTube user Dominic Tiano that puts together some of Zacha's highlights from the OHL. His speed and the way he can burst down the ice definitely jumps out on these highlights. Stick around to see him level someone with a hit toward the end of the video. He's clearly not afraid to throw his weight around.

This next one is a pretty cool one by YouTube user r3d3y3 from this year's World Juniors. It's shot from ice level and gives a slow-motion view of a Zacha snipe against Russia.

Finally, here's a shift-by-shift of a game Zacha had versus Kitchener this season by YouTube user HockeyPwns. The commentary is decent, though I think it gets bogged down in spots and gets hung up on a couple of backchecks in particular, but it's a good way to view of some of Zacha's tendencies beyond just the highlight reel.

An Opinion of Sorts

Pavel Zacha appears to have a lot great tools and definitely the potential to become a valuable NHL forward for whichever team drafts him. The thing is, where Zacha fits into the hierarchy of picks, it probably wouldn't make a ton of sense to pick him at #6. The Devils likely have their pick of some more polished forwards when their spot in the draft comes up. The fact that he has size to go along with very good skill makes him an intriguing player, though. If the Devils were inclined to move back into the 10-15 range, then I think that's when you'd be looking at Zacha as an option. There are parts of his game that need some tightening up, but the ceiling seems very high for him. Ultimately, my feeling is that his game would need to be a little more complete to take him at #6, given that his offensive production needs to progress a bit as well. To me, him having a shot at being a Devil would likely depend on the Devils trading down from the 6th pick.

Your Take

So what are your feelings on Pavel Zacha? Would you want the Devils to take him at #6? Would you be okay with the Devils trading down and taking him several picks later? In what ways do you feel he compares favorably to other prospects ranked in this area? Conversely, what do you feel are his shortcomings compared to his peers? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading.