Over the past two NHL trade deadlines, the Boston Bruins were rumored to have interest in New Jersey Devils forward Pavel Zacha. At both deadlines, the Devils ended up holding onto Zacha, but that all changed in July. Boston general manager (GM) Don Sweeney acquired Zacha in a trade for Erik Haula.
Zacha was scheduled to be a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer and was scheduled to have an arbitration hearing on Thursday to settle his contract with the Black and Gold. Monday afternoon, the Bruins announced that they agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Zacha, which makes him a free agent after the 2022-23 season. With Zacha under contract, Sweeney and the Bruins are hoping to get the most potential out of him in his first season in Boston.
Zacha Was up and Down in New Jersey
New Jersey selected Zacha sixth overall in the 2015 Entry Draft, so he never made it to the Bruins and Sweeney who had the 13th, 14th, and 15th overall picks. It didn’t take the 25-year-old long to find himself with the Devils after he made the roster in the 2016-17 season. In 386 games, he had 69 goals and 110 assists over six seasons, but he is coming off of a career year in points 36 in 2021-22 and he had his second-highest total in goals (15) and assists (21) on a team that once again struggled in the Eastern Conference.
Zacha provided flexibility for Devils coach Lindy Ruff by playing both on the left wing as well as at center. His Corsi For (CF%) last season was 57.1-percent (%) and his Fenwick For (FF%) was 55.7%, both are season highs for Zacha in a season where he has played 50 or more games. His career face-off percentage is 46.3%, but last season, he was 50.1% a year after posting a career-high of 51.5% in 2020-21.
There were also times when he struggled, scoring just eight goals in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2019-20, while never potting more than 17 in a season. This season, however, he will have an opportunity to play on a team that has playmakers and that should give him the confidence to score more than he has in the past.
Bruins Getting Middle-Six Options With Zacha
Now that Zacha is officially under contract, he is going to provide first-year coach Jim Montgomery with a lot of options in determining his fit with this Bruins roster. If there is any season in recent memory where the Bruins need middle-six options, it is going to be the upcoming season.
First-line right wing Brad Marchand is going to miss the beginning of the season as he recovers from offseason double hip surgery. That leaves a big hole for Montgomery and the Bruins. Monday, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci agreed to one-year contracts for the 2022-23 season which solidifies the top two centers. With Charlie Coyle expected to hold onto the third-line center spot, that will allow Zacha to begin the season on the wing, something he’s not opposed to, especially with the chance to play with Bergeron or Krejci.
“It was an exciting day seeing the news and I think every Bruins fan would be excited to see all this news coming in…it’s great for next season. Doing a great push for next season and trying to win,” said Zacha. “So, I’m just happy to be on a team that’s going to be in the race and in the playoff run. And that’s something that I wasn’t part of the last six years. Just being part of this culture and trying to learn from it.
“Whatever position I’m going to get to play, I’m excited to help the team. It’s gonna be a little bit different situation for me. Usually, I wasn’t in a playoff run and now with the team, how it looks like we have good players on paper, we just have to put it together there and play as a team, which I saw especially playing against that – Boston’s always plays really good team hockey, so I’m just excited to be part of it.”
Without Marchand, Zacha could be on the first line with Bergeron and possibly Jake DeBrusk or if Taylor Hall gets bumped to the top line, he could find himself with Krejci and David Pastrnak on the second line, which would be an all-Czechia line. When Marchand returns, dropping to the third line would make the most sense with Coyle and Craig Smith, which when rolling, could make the Bruins a three-line team.
There is no doubt that the potential is there for Zacha to make a big impact on the Bruins in 2022-23 and possibly beyond with his flexability. With Marchand out to begin the season, Zacha is already an upgrade replacement in the top-six for Montgomery than he would have had before the trade. New Jersey saw potential in Zacha when they drafted him sixth overall in 2015, now the Bruins are hoping to get the most potential out of him this upcoming season. He is getting a fresh start with a team that has a lot of experienced veterans on it and this could be his best chance to be successful and play up to the potential that he has had in some time.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.