Pavel Zacha’s Rookie Season and Expectations for Season Two

Pavel Zacha will be an important part of a Devils team looking to take a big step forward in 2017-18 (Photo by Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports)

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When Ray Shero was hired as the New Jersey Devils GM, part of his plan was to add more youth and skill to a team that has lacked those components for a number of years. One of the building blocks of that plan is Pavel Zacha, who was Shero’s first ever draft pick as Devils general manager. After a strong 2015-2016 OHL season, Zacha followed with a strong preseason showing and earned a spot on the New Jersey Devils opening night roster. He got off to a good start with the NHL, and made it passed the nine-game deadline to remain with the Devils.

Despite the good start, Zacha slowed down, as many 19-year olds do in their first NHL season. His rookie year was filled with highs and lows. Some were concerned with his play during the season as he was a healthy scratch on a few occasions. Having said that, there isn’t reason to worry with Zacha. There have been more than a few players in recent history that have produced at the same or similar rates as him as a rookie and have gone on to become successful NHL players.

To offer a few examples, the following table lists possession and scoring rates (at 5-on-5), along with the total points of four players who had similar production to Pavel Zacha in their rookie seasons as 19-year olds.

Player  Games Played Corsi For%  Relative Corsi For% Points per 60 minutes Total Points
Bo Horvat 68 44.7% -5.5% 1.81 25
Andre Burakovsky 63 54.6% +4.5% 1.72 22
Elias Lindholm 58 49.6% -0.9% 1.18 21
Alexander Wennberg 68 48.8% +0.1% 0.91 20
Pavel Zacha 70 47.4% -1.5% 0.77 24

Most of these players finished with similar possession with the exception of Burakovsky, who was a cut above the rest. Most of these individuals had a negative impact on their team’s possession with the exception of, (yet again) Burakovsky; where the Capitals possession was 4.5% better with him on the ice rather than with him off the ice. Despite his poor possession, Horvat had the best scoring rate among these rookies. His 1.81 points per 60 minutes in 2014-15 was the same as his teammate, Henrik Sedin- an impressive feat for a first-year NHL player. Zacha’s scoring rates were the worst from the group, but he was also on the team with the worst scoring rates of these players mentioned.

When all is said and done, most of these guys performed how you’d expect a rookie to that isn’t named Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid. It is, however, fair to expect Zacha to take a step forward next season, so the next question I have is “What are reasonable expectations for Zacha heading into his second season of play?”

The following table lists the results of each player mentioned above in their second season in the NHL.

Player Games Played  Corsi For% Relative Corsi For% Points per 60 minutes Total Points
Bo Horvat 82 45.8% -1.8% 1.45 40
Andre Burakovsky 79 51.5% +0.3% 2.01 38
Elias Lindholm 81 53.4% +1.3% 1.20 39
Alexander Wennberg 69 49.3% +1.2% 1.60 40

Every player saw an increase in their possession rates, including their relative possession. Each team’s possession was better when Burakovsky, Lindholm, and Wennberg were on the ice. Although Horvat’s relative possession was still in the red, it was almost four percent better than his rookie season. Every player also saw an increase in their 5-on-5 scoring rates, with the exception of Bo Horvat. However, he was able to increase his point totals with a significant increase in production on the power play. The gist of this is that all these players took a pretty nice step forward in their second seasons in the NHL and were relatively similar in production to Zacha in their rookie seasons.

So what are “reasonable” expectations for Zacha heading into season two?

Let’s say Zacha plays a full 82 games next season and logs 1,000 minutes at 5v5. Then, let’s take the average of all four players points per 60 (1.56) in their second season. If Zacha ends up with that average, that’s 26 points at 5v5; a fifteen-point increase from this past season. If he duplicates or tops his power play production of thirteen points from 2016-17, it’s more than reasonable to expect Zacha to finish with or around 40 points in his second season.

Zacha did struggle at times during his rookie season, but it wasn’t anything out of the norm for most rookies in their age 19 season. This past season, Bo Horvat and Alex Wennberg finished with 50+ points, while Elias Lindholm finished with a career-high 45 points. The point is that all players progress at different rates. Zacha did show flashes of improvement in his final fifteen games of the season tallying eight points, although none of them were goals. Whether his play down the stretch is an indication of what’s to come or not remains to be seen. But with an improved roster and an offseason of training under his belt, look for Pavel Zacha to take that next step forward in his development in 2017-18.

All advanced stats are from Corsica Hockey


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