Back in December, I spent some time writing an article on why Travis Zajac needed to be better for the sake of the New Jersey Devils this season. The first 20 games of the season saw him touch the score sheet twice for a paltry total of 2 goals. It looked as though Zajac was going down the same road as Dainius Zubrus, Michael Ryder and numerous other players to have passed through New Jersey; but then something happened.
A string of 4 games in a row saw Travis post 5 points; he would go super streaky again with 9 games coming in a row where he again failed to record a point. The past 17 games have been not only where he has looked the best on the ice, but also recorded 13 of his 20 total points for this campaign. So what’s the story here?
20 points in 50 games (or .4 ppg) is still a bit below Zajac’s career points per game average of .55, but it’s certainly an improvement over the .1 ppg pace that he started the season at. Additionally, for anyone who has watched Travis play over the last few weeks, his comfort and defensive ability on the ice are noticeably improved from where he was when he started the season.
I think the honest answer here is that he rushed himself back too early from injury. While he was technically “healthy” and cleared to play, he came back to a team that was already a good chunk into the season and had the benefit of preseason preparation; Zajac had none of that and it showed on the ice. Practicing with the team is great, but it’s not the same as game situations.
The personnel changes for the team have definitely benefited Trav as well; the splitting of him and Brian Boyle on the same power play unit (an offense that should have seen Geoff Ward fired, let alone how miserable the pp was at that point) has seen Zajac pot some pp points. The addition of Patrick Maroon has seen the birth of a good possession line with Zajac between Maroon and Stefan Noesen; let’s hope our coaching staff realizes a good thing when they see it, and give these guys a few games to gel.
As an aside, I think Noesen and Zajac fit like a glove and it’s been AWESOME to see a hard working guy like Noesen hit 10 goals and over 20 points this season.
If the Devils wants to continue their march to the postseason as well as continue to grow into a successful franchise again, they will need Zajac to continue to be “February 2018 and Beyond Travis” and not the “Pre-February Travis” that stunk up the Prudential Center. He’s still going to be a somewhat streaky scorer; he’s still not going to be as productive as he was earlier in his career; but if he can maintain approximately a .5 ppg pace while playing elite defense, he should continue to be a part of the solution in New Jersey for the duration of his contract.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on Travis Zajac and his season; has he really improved since I last wrote about him, or is he just getting luckier? Do you think he needed more games to get acclimated since he missed training camp/the preseason? Can he continue to score at his February/March pace? Do you think he will continue to be worth his contract as he ages? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!