At the 27-game mark, the New Jersey Devils are averaging 3.03 goals per game, a mark they didn’t even come close to at this time one year ago. New Jersey’s offensive rejuvenation is primarily due to the contributions from forwards Taylor Hall, rookies Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and of course, Brian Gibbons with his team-leading 11 tallies. The Devils are even getting goals from depth forwards like Miles Wood, Drew Stafford, and Brian Boyle.
Inevitably, there are select players who haven’t reached expectations, and Pavel Zacha is one of them. In 21 games, he has only tallied two goals and six points. The 20-year old forward hasn’t scored in 18 games, and has just two points in his last 12 contests. Coach Hynes was patient with Zacha, and played him through the first 14 games of the season, over which he registered two goals and four points. Over New Jersey’s last 13 games, Zacha’s only registered two assists out of the seven he’s played in, having been scratched six times. He has the third-highest face-off percentage (48.33), but has taken the second-least draws (180) and fewest per game (8.57) among Devils centers.
Coach Hynes was generous in the beginning of the season with Zacha’s ice time, over which he averaged at least 15 minutes in his first five full games. Zacha’s averaged 13:40 of ice time in his 21 contests, which is fourth-lowest among Devils forwards. His average ice time in five-on-five play is 10:52, the least among Devils forwards. His ice time steadily declined as the season progressed, along with his role in the lineup. After starting the season as a top-two center, Zacha was eventually relegated to a bottom-six role that included some time on the fourth line.
It’s worth noting that Zacha, who was expected to take on a greater role this season, hasn’t affected the team’s performance by underachieving. New Jersey’s depth up front (namely down the middle) was made apparent when Shero traded Adam Henrique for Sami Vatanen last week. With Kyle Palmieri returning to the lineup in the coming weeks, he’ll reclaim a regular spot in the lineup, which will further complicate Zacha’s situation.
Many Devils fans have already begun lamenting over Zacha’s tentative usage by Coach Hynes over the past few weeks, with many questioning what use it is to keep him in the NHL if he can’t even crack the Devils lineup. Zacha undoubtedly has a lot of upside, which along with this only being the 20-year old’s second NHL season, warrants no need for the organization (or armchair general managers) to already give up on the young forward.
Whether Zacha needs a little more seasoning or is just a victim of numbers, he could only benefit from a demotion to Binghamton at this point. New Jersey’s AHL affiliate currently sits at the bottom of their division and is desperate for goal-scoring, which is something Zacha can potentially help out with, while getting top line minutes as well. Zacha won’t continue developing, nor will he emerge out of this funk by becoming a frequenter of the press box, which I’m sure Devils coaching and management knows. My guess is the Devils give Zacha until Palmieri returns from injury to right his ship. Otherwise, he’s very likely to spend the foreseeable future in the AHL.