The New Jersey Devils have finally started to put together a string of consistent performances under interim coach Alain Nasreddine. They have points in their past four contests (with a 3-0-1 record to boot) and will be looking for their first winning streak of the season tonight. While it’s great that the team is starting to see results, there are still a number of players that the team needs to produce; one suspect of mention here is Pavel Zacha.
The reason I bring Zacha up particularly is because he’s now in his fourth full season with the Devils, and while he’s viewed as a player who can play up and down the lineup, his numbers are fairly inconsistent no matter where he slots in. More concerning is his play: some games he seems completely engaged and uses his frame to his advantage; others, he might as well be a ghost, both on the ice and the scoresheet.
Let’s look at a recent sample; in the past eight games, Zacha as recorded a goal and three assists. That’s not bad at all, it averages to about half a point per game. However, in five of those games, he went scoreless, and his ice time in two was cut as a result. For a player currently on both a power play and penalty kill unit, playing 13-ish minutes a game has to be considered disappointing.
The bigger struggle is that this pattern of “few games on, few games off” is nothing new with Zacha. In fact, he’s been healthy scratched in past seasons because of his inconsistency. The “ghost” descriptor before is my biggest concern; there are some games where he’s playing and I find myself watching and thinking, “I don’t remember the announcers saying his name at all this game,” when the contest is well into the third period.
While Pavel is on pace for a career high in points, and while he’s technically on the fourth line right now, his inability to put forth consistent stats has to be worrisome. The Devils used a very early pick, and Zacha is already being viewed as a poor choice due to some of the players taken immediately after him. It doesn’t help that the Devils took Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes in years after as well, as that meant if the team kept Pavel at center, he would be on the third line at highest barring injuries.
It’s frustrating to myself (and probably to others fans) because there’s games where Zacha shows flashes of brilliance and it gives us hope. Then he puts a few of those games together in a row, and the hope that he’s turned a corner creeps back into all of our minds, as if to say this is it, this is the Zacha we drafted and need! And then he goes invisible for a few games again and all the hope and goodwill that he built up come crashing back down to Earth. I know it’s not fair to expect the same as some of the players drafted after him, and that he may have been rushed to the NHL due to the team’s need at the time, but I don’t think that expecting consistent effort is unreasonable.
The good news is Zacha is still only 22 (23 at season’s end), and that’s young enough for a forward to still put everything together. Maybe he winds up topping out as a 3C who puts up 40ish points in his peak seasons and excels at defense. The hope is that he becomes something more than that; the Devils could use more weapons on offense, especially now that Taylor Hall is in Arizona. Hopefully, if the team continues to be consistent, then consistent effort (and points) will come from Zacha as well.
What are your thoughts on the play of Pavel Zacha; do you believe him to be inconsistent or no? If you believe he is, what part of it is frustrating for you to watch? Do you believe that his best seasons lie ahead of him, perhaps under a new coaching regime? Leave any and all comments below. Thanks as always for reading!