By: James Swindells / Follow me on Twitter @jimswindells68
On June 13, 2022, Bruins’ General Manager Don Sweeney traded forward Erik Haula to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Pavel Zacha. A glance at Zacha shows Sweeney dealt for a player that has not lived up to the lofty expectations of a former sixth overall draft selection in 2015. The Bruins gained a younger, more skilled player in Zacha while surrendering Haula, who most had viewed as expendable. The key to this deal is, can the Bruins mine unearthed potential from Zacha where the Devils had previously failed?
When one sizes up the Bruins roster for the upcoming season, you can throw around projections with caveats attached to every player. Looking at Zacha, though, it is abundantly clear that unless a season-ending injury derails him, this will be, with 100% certainty, the breakout season of his career. One does not need to be Nostradamus to prophesy that Zacha will surpass the career-high 36 points he obtained last season.
It’s also not a stretch to say that the Bruins’ talent pool far exceeds anything Zacha had seen in his time in Newark. Playing with the likes of Jesper Boqvist, Alexander Holtz, Andreas Johnsson, and Miles Wood is far from what Bruins head coach, Jim Montgomery, is proposing for Zacha. While that is a lovely quartet of Devils players, compared to what Bruins fans have become accustomed to, it is nightmare fuel. Montgomery has plans to put Zacha on the first line with Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk to begin the season.
In his career with the Devils, Zacha averaged 15:46 of time on ice (TOI) per game while predominantly getting third and fourth-line minutes. Being lined up with Bergeron and DeBrusk will increase his TOI immediately. There is also an opportunity to improve upon power-play production with the Bruins, an option that was restricted by the Devils’ lack of roster depth. And while Brad Marchand is recovering from double hip surgery, opportunities for increased offensive production for Zacha will be abundant in the season’s first quarter.
With Marchand projected to return to the Bruins’ lineup in late November, what line Zacha ends up slotting onto isn’t known yet. The most likely scenario is that Zacha gets paired with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith, but the rumor mill that is the internet wants an all-Czech line comprised of Zacha, David Krejci, and David Pastrnak. Breaking up a second-line pairing of Pastrnak, Krejci, and Taylor Hall does not appear ideal, especially with Hall getting an entire season with Krejci and the promise he and Krejci showed in a 27-game sample in 2021. Coyle has made it clear, though, that when the time comes, he’s not opposed to the idea of having Zacha as one of his linemates.
Regardless of where Zacha finds himself inside the Bruins’ plans, the opportunity is there for him to rejuvenate a career that clearly has not lived up to expectations. This second chance given to Zacha, coupled with an upgrade in assets provided to him in the form of the Bruins roster, gives Zacha a chance to find his game and provide the Bruins with a player that makes the team younger, far more skilled, and productive.
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