Heading into this season, there were some fairly high expectations for Pavel Zacha to break out and really improve his game. It is his third season since being drafted, and he was playing really well in camp and the preseason leading up to October 9th. Considering how those who were drafted around him have played and developed since that draft (Mitch Marner, Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, Mikko Rantanen), it was hoped and almost expected that he would take a nice size jump this season and start to show us fans why the brass of the New Jersey Devils decided to take him 6th overall instead of, say, AATJ’s pick at the time, Mathew Barzal (who was also the most common mock draft pick at the time, and is now tearing it up for the team in Brooklyn and playing considerably better than Zacha is right now).
After fourteen games, however, where he only produced 2 goals and 2 assists and has not played very well, the team decided to make him a healthy scratch against Edmonton. In my opinion, it was the right move. Give him a game to clear his head, figure out why he is struggling, and hopefully help him get back on track to playing like he was before the regular season started.
The interesting part is that in his place, the player who is actually playing at the level that we wanted Zacha to be playing at right now is Jesper Bratt. First off, yes I know that Zacha is a centerman and Bratt is a left winger. However, the connection I am trying to make has little to do with position along the forward lines. Bratt has played all 15 games so far, and has 12 points to show for it, 5 goals and 7 assists. He is consistently producing night in and night out. Even when not producing points, he is still has a positive relative Corsi, meaning he is not an all-or-nothing skater who either scores or is a liability. He is helping this team in different ways, and that is despite playing on a couple different line combinations (both top 6 and bottom 6).
The question that I have, really, is how does this make you feel as a fan? It’s an interesting thought for me. On the one hand, to have a 6th round pick pan out like he has so far is like hitting the Mega Millions jackpot. The odds of that pick hitting for a potential top 6 skater is so incredibly low, and happens so rarely, that it makes you feel kind of like when you get home from shopping and realize that the cashier forgot to scan a couple of the items you got and you saved some extra cash. Those kinds of picks hitting really help to fill out a team’s roster, and can put them over the top in terms of potentially making a playoff spot.
On the reverse side, however, potentially missing on the 6th overall pick when there were so many others that have already become successes that were drafted in that neighborhood is so disheartening. This is especially true because the Devils could have had several other guys who are killing it right now and, developmentally, are already light years ahead. Considering how the defense looks now for NJ, passing up on Werenski looks especially brutal, and Provorov is really a darn good defenseman who is only getting better down in Philly. If you wanted to stay on the forwards, however, not drafting Barzal really hurts since he looks to be improving at a rapid rate, and it was really the consensus pick amongst pundits and fans. Now, that is not to say that a GM should make a choice based on fans. I was on Team Patrick, and now am much happier Shero went with Nico. But when there are a bunch of hockey guys too who were saying Barzal, and he looks to be ahead of Zacha now, that is like a punch right in the gut (never mind the 2014 decision not to take AATJ’s mock draft selection, Brayden Point, in either the first or second rounds, and now he is on a point per game pace down in Tampa).
So the interesting question becomes this: what feeling is more prominent? The elation of potentially finding a diamond in the rough, or the disappointment of potentially missing on a 6th overall pick? Now of course, I write potentially for both of those scenarios because nothing is certain. For both Zacha and Bratt, the sample size is still so incredibly small. By game 82 this year, or even by game 82 next year, where these players stand could be completely different. Maybe it takes Zacha another couple months to find his game, but he really turns it on in the second half of the season, and by next year is a near point per game player centering the top line. And maybe Bratt’s great start is really a mirage, and once opposing defenses figure out his game better, he hits a plateau and becomes nothing more than a depth winger. Those are possible, I would never deny that. However, the question I am posing is still valid right now, because at this point in time, Zacha’s odds of being a disappointment are sadly improving, and Bratt continues to prove Shero right for burning a year of his ELC.
In the end, it may come down to whether or not you are an eternal optimist or pessimist. While I know that optimism is the way to go, I am a pessimist by nature, and therefore I have to feel more disappointment than elation. While missing on the 6th overall pick is not quite as brutal as missing on the first overall pick, it is still a given fact that not hitting on a quality player with that selection can really set a franchise back. I mean it took Edmonton several tries at the top picks until they finally found the generational talent in Connor McDavid to start to get better. There were some quality choices in there, like Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but they missed way too often to improve in a timelier manner. The best teams consistently find top 6 forwards and top 4 defenders with their first round choices, and especially when those are lottery selections. To miss there hurts.
Finding someone late in a draft like Bratt does help to soften that blow, of course, no question there. And once again, let me say that this could all change if Zacha starts to pick up his game and play like he did in the preseason. But as of now, it is hard not to feel a little disappointment there, at least for me. I really hope that Zacha can change that for me and pick up his game once he returns to the ice for the New Jersey Devils. For now, however, I want to put up a poll and see what you guys think. Do you feel more optimism about Bratt potentially hitting, or more pessimism about Zacha potentially becoming a dud? And let me know in the comments as well. Thanks for reading!
Are you more optimistic about Bratt, a 6th rounder, potentially succeeding, or more pessimistic about Zacha, the 6th overall pick, potentially being a bust?
This poll is closed
I’m more optimistic about Bratt
I’m more pessimistic about Zacha
Emotions are too evenly matched
What an awful question