The 2017-18 New Jersey Devils season saw what could essentially be dubbed “The Tale of Two Travis Zajacs.” It started of course with the summer pectoral injury that required surgery, and Zajac seemingly coming back too early, both in terms of estimated timeline and his play on the ice. Fans said it all from “Zajac looks done” to discussion of regretting his extension signed in 2012, and to be fair with a meager 2 goals in his first 20 games, it was becoming harder and harder to justify Travis’ value aside from his defense.
Things got slightly better on December 30th when he had his first multi-point game of that season against the Washington Capitals; what followed was a revival. Including the Washington game, Travis saw himself tally 24 points in the final 43 appearances he made last season. His strong overall play would continue in the postseason as he contributed a goal and an assist in the Devils losing effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Devils fans and analysts were’t sure what to expect out of Zajac coming into 2018-19 with the mixed bag that last season was. So far (and one game is a VERY small sample size) it appears as though he’s ready to pick up where he left off. With 2 goals (including one of the nicest ones Travis has scored in years, maybe ever) off of a pair of great passes/plays from Miles Wood, Travis appears poised to lead a new third scoring line this season.
Again, one game isn’t much of a reliable sample size or estimate, though it would be nice if it was because then Zajac and Kyle Palmieri would each be on pace for 164 goals! The good news is that this still bodes much better than where he was at this time last season; Travis already has put in some points. Travis has already had a multi-point game. While Travis still isn’t the fastest guy on the ice (and being on the same line as Miles Wood only makes you look slower) he doesn’t look sluggish as he did upon return from injury.
For this Devils season to be as successful as the last (if not more) the team will need secondary scoring; Travis Zajac being able to return to being at least a 15 goal scorer while helping his line mates to get going would provide said secondary scoring. If his line and the Pavel Zacha/Marcus Johansson/Jesper Bratt (when healthy) line can also put some points on the board, then the Devils could be poised to be a dangerous team again this season.
From the eye test, Zajac seemed to be playing better than he has in recent memory as well. The goal could honestly be the nicest one he has ever had in his career. If he plays at this level, and continues to be able to finish plays like this, then the Devils are in good shape to get some offense even on nights when the top line does get shut down.
There’s always the chance that the game was a one-off, a fluke perhaps. Zajac could regress as he is continuing to move further away from his prime years; he does still provide excellent defense, and perhaps the new, young, fast line mates are the true shot in the arm he needs to have a better season than last. The good news is that with a game tonight, the Devils and their fans won’t have to wait long to find out.
How optimistic are you about the prospect of Zajac returning to form for the entire season? Are you worried that this one game is an anomaly and that he will return to being the black hole he was for the first 20 games last season? Do you see him having another season where he scores at a 40-50 point pace while still contributing excellent defense? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!