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The Devils Need Pavel Zacha to Sustain His Recent Form

Pavel Zacha has had a fairly disappointing season overall, but has started to turn it on of late. For the Devils to sustain the success they’ve had, they need Zacha to maintain something approaching this level of play.

NHL: FEB 06 Devils at Senators Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the 2017-18 season has marched on, the Devils group of forwards has proven to be much improved versus recent iterations of this team. The Devils have a relatively young unit with some top end skill and more depth than years past and it has helped propel the team into a much improved spot in the standings compared to past years. In spite of this acknowledged improvement, the depth component of that equation has at times felt a bit thin over the past several weeks, though.

Among the key determinants of the quality of depth at forward is second-year center Pavel Zacha. The 2015 first-round pick was drafted to be one of the building blocks for a rebuilt Devils contender. To this point, this season as a whole has been fairly disappointing for the young Czech. With long scoring droughts, stints in the scratch suite, and shifting linemates, it hasn’t quite been the breakout campaign fans and Zacha himself were likely hoping for. Plenty of grumbling has occured in response to his season and much of it is certainly justifiable.

Of late though, Zacha has started to look a little more comfortable on the ice for New Jersey. Primarily on a line with Miles Wood and Kyle Palmieri these past few weeks, Zacha has looked like a solid possession player and a capable distributor of the puck. This improved play has effectively resulted in his promotion to the Devils’ second line. For the Devils to sustain success through the remainder of this season they need this from Zacha. Travis Zajac’s recent red-hot streak notwithstanding, the Devils lack an offensive talent that can help carry a true second line unless Zacha can start to seize the role.

Zacha’s production over the past two seasons leaves much to be desired in terms of pivoting a legitimate scoring second line. He has shown some flashes of the type of playmaking touch that could actually result in him being a difference-maker in New Jersey. With two multi-assist games in the past week and overall performances that have looked improved almost scross the board there is some hope that he is maybe starting to turn the corner for the Devils. The one issue that persists with his play is the lack of scoring. Zacha finally broke through with a goal last night, but in the previous 42-game stretch, he managed just a single goal. For those counting at home that is a two-goal pace over a full season.

Zacha has had quality stretches of play in the past, only to see the scoring dry up and the player start to fade into invisibility again. This past month, and particularly the past couple weeks when he has 6 points in his last 7 games and now 5 in his past 4, have showcased a Zacha that can be an important contributor for the Devils. Given his track record to this point, though, I hesitate to declare that he has officially arrived as a player. His shot rate has picked up this season but still hovers below two per game and while he has looked very strong passing the puck in the past several weeks he still just has 17 total points on the season. His .37 points per game are just a sliver above his .34 per game pace from 2016-17 and before this recent hot streak, he was lagging behind that pace.

I don’t point all of this out to be a downer, just to say that the Devils really need this Zacha that has showed up the past few weeks to stick around to help sustain success between now and the end of the season. The depth down the center for New Jersey is okay, but it only becomes good if Zacha can continue to step his game up. The last several weeks have been an encouraging sign for the young Czech, though. If he can maintain this form or at least some facsimile of it, it will go a long way toward solidifying the Devils core.