Has Pavel Zacha found his home in Boston?
The 2015 NHL Draft was the best in the history of the NHL. No other draft class has provided the game with more talent and superstars than in 2015. The 2015 Draft will live on forever in infamy in Boston. With three consecutive first-round picks that year, the Bruins missed on Matt Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot and drafted Jake Debrusk, Jacob Zboril, and Zach Senshyn. Only Debrusk has had a significant contribution to the Boston Bruins. However, another player from that first round has recently found his game with the Boston Bruins. The 6th overall selection in the 2015 draft was Pavel Zacha. The New Jersey Devils selected Zacha as one of the most promising prospects from that year's draft class. With his combination of size, speed, and skill Zacha was poised to become a star in the National Hockey League. Unfortunately, Zacha has yet to reach his potential in his 7 NHL seasons. Instead, he has served as an expensive bottom-six forward with the Devils. Once described as lethal, his offensive game has yet to translate at the NHL level. However, Zacha has shown promise putting up 35 points in 50 games in 2020-2021 but followed that up by scoring 36 points in 70 games last season. A Restricted Free Agent this past offseason, New Jersey has decided that it was time to move on from Zacha and that a change of scenery would benefit the player. On July 13th, the Bruins made a deal to acquire Zacha for Erik Haula. In August, the Bruins signed Zacha to a one-year contract with a 3.5 million dollar cap hit. The acquisition of Zacha has certainly worked out for Boston so far. This year, it appears Zacha has found his home in Boston.
Zacha has been impressive with his versatility, work ethic, and skill this season. He has spent time playing with the B's top three lines but has appeared to find his home with fellow Czechs David Pastrnak and David Krejci. Playing on the left wing with two highly skilled players, Zacha's size, speed, and skill fit perfectly with Krejci and Pastrnak. But the aspects of his game that have stuck out to me are his work ethic and intelligence. Zacha uses his size and strength to win puck battles along the wall and his speed to win foot races and back-check hard to defend odd-man rushes. Pavel plays with 110% effort every shift.
Zacha's game provides the "Czech line" with a responsible two-way player. His presence on that line allows Krejci and Pasta to play with a more offensive mindset, and Zacha also benefits from playing with two highly skilled players. This year Zacha has three goals and twelve assists. This puts him on pace for eleven goals and forty-five assists for 56 points, which would be 21 points higher than Zacha's previous career high. There is no reason to assume that Zacha won't keep up with the pace, and I fully expect him to start scoring more shortly.
Given his bad luck in goal-scoring, better results should be on the horizon for Zacha. His presence has been a pleasant surprise for the Bruins. The only question is what is his future with the organization? Zacha only has a one-year contract with Boston and will be an unrestricted Free Agent this upcoming season. I would like to see Zacha back in Boston. He does everything right, but unfortunately, the results have not been there. Due to the fact the 25-year-old winger is on pace to have a career year, he will get a raise from his current 3.5 million dollar cap hit. The question is, how much of a raise will Zacha receive? The important variable for this situation is how much will the salary cap increase because that will influence how much Zacha can make on the open market. The other important question is, will Pavel Zacha be the heir to David Krejci for the Bruins second line center? After Krejci's previous contract ended, the Bruins were ill-prepared to replace their longtime second-line center. Thankfully, he came back after his year in the Czech league. Now that Krejci is in the last year of his new deal, the Bruins need to plan for life after David Krejci. Krejci will be 37 after the season, retirement is in the near future.
The center position is a concern for the Bruins long term but do they have a potential answer to their problems in front of them?
Throughout his Devils tenure, Zacha played center. Throughout the majority of his career, he was subpar on faceoffs but found success his last two seasons in New Jersey, winning 51% of faceoffs during those final two years with the Devils. Zacha's game has consistently improved over the years, and he may finally reach his potential as a top-six forward. Whether the Bruins will view him as a winger or their next second-line center is an interesting question the front office will decide. But hopefully, Pavel Zacha has found his home in Boston.