BRIGHTON, MA – If there was an NHL destination that Pavel Zacha was going to get traded to this offseason, the Boston Bruins were pretty clear the perfect spot.
The 2015 first round pick of the New Jersey Devils has slowly carved out an identity for himself in Jersey where he’s averaged 16 goals and 36 points over the last two seasons as a 6-foot-3, 210-pound pivot on a Devils hockey club that’s struggled offensively. But Zacha hasn’t to this point lived up to being the sixth overall pick in the first round of that stacked 2015 NHL Draft, and that’s part of the reason he was dealt to the Bruins straight-up for versatile forward Erik Haula.
The surprising part for Zacha is that he’s been spending his summer offseasons locally for the last few years after former Devils teammates Brian Boyle and Jimmy Hayes talked him into training with them in Foxboro. The 25-year-old Zacha even bought his own place in Boston last summer and said he’s been best friends with Boston Bruins defenseman Jakub Zboril since the two were four-year-old hockey players in the Czech Republic.
So if Zacha was going to get traded anywhere across the NHL map for the first time in his pro career, this is the place he’d have wanted to be when it was done.
“I was mentally ready for it to happen, but I didn’t know what to expect because it’s the first time it’s happened to me in my career,” said Zacha, who interestingly said that captain Patrice Bergeron was one of the first B’s players to reach out to him welcoming him to the Boston Bruins along with Jakub Zboril. “It’s great. I know a lot of the guys because I train here during the summers in Boston and stay here during the summer. Every time I’ve played against them it’s a tough team to play against, so it’s really exciting for me.
“I really like it [in Boston]. I like the people. It’s a big hockey town, so I have a chance to skate and train with a lot of good hockey players. It certainly made it a lot easier knowing that I got traded here. Not a big move since I’m already staying here.”
Zacha will be an interesting fit for this season and beyond once the RFA is signed to a new contract. He could play the wing for the upcoming year as Boston is hoping that both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci return to the Black and Gold fold, and then he’d be the youthful, talented replacement in the top-6 for a Boston Bruins team that’s organizationally short on those plug-and-play center prospects at the NHL level right now.
“He’ll have a chance to hopefully play in a top-nine scenario with us and with [Brad Marchand] being out, a significant opportunity early on with power play and situational play that he can benefit from,” said Don Sweeney. “But we do believe there’s more [offensive] potential there, and that’s up to Pavel to take advantage of the opportunities he’s presented with.
“We just felt that Pavel Zacha was a player that we had targeted in the middle of the ice in a multi-positional-type player. Younger. I feel there’s growth and potential there moving forward. We hope to be able to find a deal with him being a part of the organization now and beyond.”
Who knows? Perhaps having a couple of Czech countrymen around that he’s known a long time, in Zacha and Zboril along with Krejci, obviously, will add to David Pastrnak’s eagerness to sign a big money, long term deal with the Boston Bruins as well.
It remains to be seen how it’s all going to work out on the ice, but getting a talented, in-his-prime center ready to potentially take the hand-off from Bergeron and Krejci sooner rather than later was on Boston’s offseason check list. That one has been checked off even if there is still quite a bit of work to do for Sweeney and Co. with so many Boston Bruins loose ends to tie up.