After months of hope, speculation, research, and more hope, the New Jersey Devils finally made their sixth overall section in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. They took a forward. They took a forward with offensive skill and upside. They did not took who we picked in our mock, but they took someone that's justifable: Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting.
Did We Profile Him?: Yes, we did! Mike did a prospect profile on Zacha back in May. I would recommend reading that for an understanding about the player.
The Basics: Zacha was born on April 6, 1997. He shoots left, he's 6'3" and 212 pounds, and he was a near-point per game player in his first OHL season. Prior to that, he was brought up throughthe Bili Tygri Liberec system in the Czech league. Here's his numbers according to Elite Prospects:
What Others Have Said About Zacha: Since Mike did profile him, I'll reference some different opinions. Here's what was written about him at Future Considerations. Keep in mind, this was before his season in Sarnia:
The top Czech prospect for the 2015 draft…a big boy who is pretty physical for his age…he will hit you because that's what he does…goes hard to the net and is relentless on the forecheck, which can be a scary sight for the opposing defensemen…has a strong shot that is both hard and accurate… good one-timer…prefers a shot to a pass…willing, but immature game defensively…goes back to defend the crease and knows how to use the stick in the defensive zone…good on PK where he gets his frame into lanes and just clears the puck when he gets the chance…patient player with good vision, soft hands and the ability to make one-on-one dekes…strong skater with good balance, but needs to get faster.
This is pretty much all desirable things for a forward prospect. So how did he do from a scouting perspective? As he played in the OHL, you better believe Brock Otten of OHL Prospects has something to say about that. He ranked him fifth in his OHL rankings. Before you react to the ranking, here's what Otten wrote:
Such a difficult player to get a read on this year for me. I saw Sarnia live only twice this year and Zacha did not play in either game. So I have to go off of what I've seen televised (OHL, Under 20's & 18's), which isn't ideal for me. Because of injuries, suspension, and the U20's, Zacha played in only 37 regular season games this year. First the good. I was completely surprised by just how physical of a player Zacha was. He plays the game very hard and is already very adept at using his size to gain and maintain possession in the offensive end. His speed is only OK, but his overall skating ability is quite good for his size (his balance is terrific). As such, he can be very difficult to separate from the puck. Zacha actually seems to be most effective off the rush, generating chances by driving wide to the net. He also has above average hands and possesses the ability to make defenders miss, in addition to driving through them. Zacha's shot is a weapon for him and he definitely projects as a goal scorer at the next level. Now the bad (or at least my concerns). While Sarnia is not blessed with the most talented offensive roster, I felt like Zacha struggled in using his line mates in my viewings. He's able to create chances using his size, but I rarely saw him make a great pass or demonstrate above average vision. In a lot of ways, I'm getting flashbacks to Radek Faksa in his OHL draft year and he certainly has not developed the way people thought he would. All that said, the size and skill package of Zacha is going to be very alluring. Up until about a month ago I had Konecny ahead of him, but with Konecny's injury and Zacha's strong play at the U18's, I swapped them for my final list. In a lot of ways, they are similar players, but different sizes
Ultimately, the big concern is that Zacha missed quite a bit of time so it's a question as to whether his 34 points in 37 game form is legitimate or not. Otten wasn't big on Zacha, but notes his good hands, his skating, and strength on the puck. How Zacha performs with Sarnia next season should see some improvement, though.
At Canucks Army, they didn't rate Zacha well at all. However, Rhys Jessop notes that he could still be very, very good:
On raw tools alone, it's easy to see why so many teams covet Pavel Zacha. He's huge, he's physical, he's fast, he's got excellent hands and puck skills, and his shot is fantastic. He can be a human highlight reel at times, which makes his relatively ineffective 2014-2015 OHL season all the more puzzling.
Zacha's toolkit is bordering on elite, and though his defense isn't a strong suit, even that is something he's demonstrated a willingness to improve. His skating is excellent in general and coupling it with monster size and a physical inclination makes him a devastating hitter, and there aren't many players with puck skills or a shot as good as Zacha's. But at just 34 points in 37 OHL games, his production is very mediocre for a potential first round target, let alone a borderline top-10 guy.
The big knock on Zacha is that he didn't produce a lot and in this draft, one could argue that going for a high point per game rate should be a requirement for a high pick. However, Jessop notes that his tools, the individual skills he has, are very much on that level. Jessop is a fan of Zacha, but between that and Otten's opinion, it's not as if it's a guarantee he'll be a scorer. Just like the others in the second tier of forward prospects in my view; there was something about each that prevents one from getting too excited about.
Zacha did get quite a bit of attention on other sites on our network. I would check out those profiles as well. Jeff Little had a profile on him at The Cannon. Over at the Stars blog, Defending Big D, Derek Neumeier as this profile on Zacha. And at Stanley Cup of Chowder, where their team suddenly gained a bunch of firsts this year, Mike Leonard has this profile.
A Little Video on Zacha: Here's two videos on Zacha I want to highlight. Here's a highlight video by TheHockeyVidz. Beware of the song they used.
And if you have 22 minutes, here's a shift-by-shift video evaluating Zacha's performance by HockeyPwns:
My Initial Reaction: My initial reaction is that this is OK. The Devils need an offensive forward. Zacha is an offensive forward. They need someone with potential. Zacha has potential. I was more into Barzal due to his skillset, speed, and the fact he just didn't just come over. Rantanen would be more NHL-ready, though there's a concern on how much translates over to the North American game. But those are my preferences. The gap between Zacha and those prospects isn't large at all. This is perfectly fine for an organization that was lacking in offensive forward prospects. It's a lot better than, say, a Crouse or a defenseman or trading down in the hopes that their guy would still be around.
That's my quick take. What's your reaction? Please leave your thoughts on Zacha and the pick in the comments. I'll add more to this post this evening. Thank you for reading.