Hockey players progress at different rates in the NHL, ranging from being ready right away to some who will never quite get to the needed caliber. Somewhere in between those extremes lie the late bloomers: players who maybe don’t progress as much as observers would like in their first few seasons, but eventually become at least regulars in a lineup. I’m not sure he truly fits the “late” part because of how young he still is, but New Jersey Devils forward Pavel Zacha has been blooming under Lindy Ruff.
Zacha has had an up and down start to his career, from his high draft selection back in 2015 to an AHL demotion in 2018-19. He’s had a lot of different highs and lows in between those moments as well, but I think what was frustrating for a lot of fans (and probably staff too) was how consistently inconsistent he was. Whether this was due to usage, linemates, Zacha himself or some combination of factors may never be fully known. What was known though was there was a large percentage of the Devils fanbase that felt Zacha would never realize his potential in the offensive zone. As the Devils added Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes to their ranks, that possibility seemed to become a certainty.
Fast forward to last season when Zacha led the team in points and was tied for the lead in goals as well. Just two seasons prior had been his time spent in the AHL so what happened? Well part of the answer here could be that with Zacha entering his prime years as a forward, he’s putting up the numbers that will go on to be the best of his career when everything is said and done. After he exits his prime, where as of now he’s pacing for point totals in the high 50s/low 60s, he might drop back to being a 30-40 points per season guy.
Or it could be that Zacha was just a late bloomer - that he needed more time to find himself in the NHL and contribute on the regular. I think there’s some validity for this being the case for Pavel. First, he was rushed a bit into the NHL due to the Devils needing talented bodies. Secondly, he started his career as a center, but has spent the past few seasons as a winger, which has seemingly led to his production uptick.
The long term hope is for this to not just be a prime years thing and for this to be where Zach’s production hovers for his career. He’s become an extremely reliable producer who also contributes in other facets of the game, and he looks to be a big part of the team’s future. It’s always frustrating when drafted players don’t pan out; it’s nice to see one that appears to be a late bloomer for us rather than less impactful than we had anticipated.
What are your thoughts on Zacha and his increased production? Do you believe this will ne sustainable long term for him? Are you concerned that his play is a product of the coaching regime? What do you think the future holds for Pavel as a Devil? Leave any and all comments below, thanks as always for reading and Happy Thanksgiving to those who are celebrating today!