Pavel Zacha has proven to be a viable top 6 center for the Boston Bruins now and in the future.
When the Bruins acquired Zacha (in exchange for winger Erik Haula), from the New Jersey Devils last summer, they did so with an eye on the present and the future. With the futures of longtime Boston Bruins centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci past this season unknown, the Bruins knew they needed to address their depth up the middle and start to find players to slot into the 1C and 2C slots. Zacha proved that he could be one of those players in the first four months of the season and general manager Don Sweeney locked him to a four-year, $19 million contract ($4.75M AAV), on Jan. 16.
“I think that his versatility has shown through,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said then. “Plays in all situations in a hockey game and has been a big part of our group. Fit in very well. Comfortable with several of his countrymen. But overall, a very well-liked young man that we’re happy to have going forward and addresses a positional need in the future.”
Since signing that extension, Pavel Zacha has ten goals and 13 assists in 32 games, and 18 goals and 35 assists in 77 games total this season. More importantly, he has made, as Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery recently termed it, a seamless transition to the middle as Montgomery has given Bergeron and Krejci maintenance days during a very busy stretch run.
“It’s been very encouraging,” Montgomery said recently of Zacha’s re-assimilation to the middle. “I think the Carolina game (March 26), was probably the best 200-foot game he’s had. He’s had a lot of games where he’s helped us at center. It’s pretty amazing to see how seamless he’s gone from left wing to right wing to center, and he just keeps building our team game.
I think he’s getting more comfortable in quickly taking away time and space better. It’s a lot of work, the d-zone coverage for the centers and he seems to be playing a lot faster there. His ability to make high end plays through the middle of the ice is incredible; backhand, sauce plays, forehand. So, his ability to penetrate middle ice has always been something that we’ve liked about his game.”
Not only has that helped the Boston Bruins maintain their historic pace as the games wind down on the 2022-23 regular season, but it’s given Montgomery and Sweeney reassurance that they have a legit top 6 center for the future in the 6-foot-4, 200-pound, 25-year-old center who was drafted sixth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
“That’s why we continue to get looks at him,” Montgomery acknowledged. “Is for him to get reps at it, and then next year – if it’s next year or the year after – when he has to be a full time center for us, he’s comfortable for the position and he knows ‘Ok this is where I am going forward’ and he’s had success there. It’s nothing but good short term, and good long-term.”