Maybe all Pavel Zacha needed was a change of scenery.
When Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney acquired the forward from the New Jersey Devils over the summer in exchange for Erik Haula, Zacha wasn’t exactly known for his offensive prowess, eclipsing the 10-goal mark just three times.
Sweeney was confident Zacha, who never quite reached his ceiling with the Devils, would be able to improve his game.
“You play with better players, you know, and opportunity-wise, hopefully, you can take advantage of that,” Sweeney said in August. “I think early on you’re going to get an indication. You may not be playing in the middle of the ice, you may be playing the wing, but we think he has that upside in a positional need for us.
” … He has all the talent to be able to take advantage of situational opportunity. And it’ll be up to him to hopefully finish maybe at a little higher rate. … But we do believe there’s a higher offensive ceiling there as a good two-way player, but with a higher offensive ceiling that hopefully he can tap into.”
New Jersey fans seemed more than happy the Devils dealt Zacha and probably did not agree with Sweeney’s sentiments. But Zacha worked hard in training camp and received heaps of high praise from his teammates and has become an important part of a Bruins team that sits atop the NHL standings at the All-Star break.
Zacha has found success in Boston with 11 goals and 14 assists. He’ll without a doubt break his career-high of 36 points set in the 2021-22 season and has a chance to set a new career-high in goals. He’s already tied his career-high in assists with 24.
More than his numbers, Zacha has found tremendous chemistry with David Krejci and David Pastrnak, as part of the Czech line. The three are menaces to opponents, always seeming to know where the other is at on the ice at all times. Whether it’s the trio playing a more European style of hockey or something else, it’s working.
The move was a bit of a risk given Zacha’s past lack of production. He spent his first seven seasons with the Devils, so it wasn’t necessarily a small sample size. Haula, meanwhile, helped fill the void Krejci left behind last year at Boston’s second-line center position. But that wasn’t his natural position and it was a lot to ask of someone who was used to a bottom-six role.
Now Zacha has cemented himself on the second line and is part of a team that is the favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Even amid an 18-game scoreless drought, Zacha still found ways to contribute.
The Bruins clearly are sold, signing him to a four-year extension in January. And since all the t’s have been crossed and all the i’s have been dotted, Zacha has been on a tear with 10 points in nine games.
“I just feel better and better with every game I play with this team and I don’t think I?ve felt better before,” Zacha, who scored two goals in Boston’s win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, told reporters per The Boston Globe. “I think playing with teammates like I do and everyone’s really good to me in the locker room and everywhere else, all the players are great, everyone wants to win and it’s such a winning culture and it?s great to be part of.”
Zacha has helped solidify the second line and given Krejci a steady winger, allowing the Bruins the privilege of having Taylor Hall play on the third line. He’s helped make the B’s team deeper, more dangerous a team that is hard to beat.
There was something Sweeney saw in Zacha, who’s on pace to have a career year, that was worth trading for.
And it’s certainly paid off.