There’s always an element of risk when it comes to drafting players. While every team hopes their top pick turns into a superstar, we all know that’s not always the case. The two biggest attributing components to properly developing a blue chip prospect are patience and timing, which a lot of fans tend to forget, especially when they follow a struggling team. That seems to be the case in New Jersey with rookie center Pavel Zacha. Drafted sixth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the 19-year old is considered the best forward prospect the organization has had since Zach Parise.
It’s no secret that the Devils have had a turbulent season of mishaps and blunders that’s left them on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. While multiple members of the team, coaching, and managerial staff have received their fair share of blame, one absurd mentality a lot of fans have formed in these trying times, is prematurely labeling Zacha a bust. If you base this off the young forward’s seasonal stats (2G, 5A in 37GP), the concern is brash but somewhat understandable. However, the aspect of labeling Zacha a failed prospect is completely erroneous when you take a step back and look at the big picture.
One of the best ways to dispute those already questioning the legitimacy of Zacha’s potential is taking a look back at forwards drafted in the 4-7th range, where Zacha was selected (sixth overall). The chart below displays all forwards drafted 4-7th overall between 2006 and 2013, and compares the average points-per-game of their rookie seasons and entire careers.
|Draft Year||Player||Rank||Rookie Age||Rookie PPG||Career PPG||Still in NHL|
A total of 20 forwards were drafted in the 4-7th range between 2006 and 2013. All are currently 21-28 years old, and 19 are still in the NHL. 13 of the 19 players still playing in the NHL averaged less than .5 PPG in their rookie season (Zacha is currently averaging .19 PPG). 14 out of those 19 players currently have a career PPG of .5 or better. To break these numbers down further, 10 out of the 19 players still active in the NHL on this chart averaged .45 PPG or less in their rookie year and eight out of those 10 players currently have a career PPG at least one point or better than their rookie season PPG. Out of the 19 active players, 13 of them were 19 or younger in their official rookie season (Zacha is 19). 10 out of the 13 players on this chart who were 19 or younger as rookies averaged less than .5 PPG in their first NHL season (Notable players include Phil Kessel, Jakub Voracek, and Ryan Johansen). Out of those ten, six currently have an average career PPG of .5 or higher.
To reiterate, don’t be dissuaded by those already content with calling Zacha a failed prospect when he hasn’t even played 40 NHL games. Granted his struggles are apparent, it’s not uncommon for a forward drafted in his range that entered the league at his age to underachieve in the beginning. Throw in the overall state of New Jersey’s team (and how he’s been primarily used as a 6th-9th forward), Zacha hasn’t played in the most developmentally ideal environment. If the past few drafts provide any indication, the best thing for the Devils faithful is to be patient and understand there’s no such thing as a guaranteed star-caliber draft pick. If one thing the players on the chart above have shown, it’s how big of a factor the aforementioned components- patience and timing truly play in developing a blue chip prospect like the Devils have in Pavel Zacha.