The Devils looked to address some issues scoring-wise with their first round selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft held at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida last night (June 26). With the sixth overall pick, they took Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League.
As expected, Connor McDavid of the OHL’s Erie Otters went first overall to the Oilers while the Sabres chose Jack Eichel of Boston University second. From there, many thought, the real draft would begin, since picks one and two were such locks.
The Coyotes took Dylan Strome (a teammate of McDavid’s with the Otters and brother of New York Islander Ryan Strome) third, Toronto took Mitch Marner of the OHL’s London Knights fourth and the Hurricanes took defenseman Noah Hanifin of Boston College fifth before the Devils were on the clock.
NHL Central Scouting actually had Zacha ranked eighth overall, while Marner was ranked sixth. But with the Leafs’ needs and their connection to management at London, they decided to take him at fourth. The Devils would address their own issues at center by taking the next highest ranked centerman. This was just a testament to how deep the Draft was at center, considering there were two players at that position touted as “generational talents” in McDavid and Eichel. The fact that the Devils could get a good center a few picks in showed that the talent at this position runs deep in this draft class.
So what does the Devils first sixth overall pick since John MacLean in 1983 bring to the table? According to NHL.com’s official profile page, the 6 foot, 3 inch 210 pound left-handed shooting center “exhibits good puck control, a strong work ethic and a great shot.” He “is relentless on the puck and creates scoring chances for teammates with his strength and smart decisions.” This profile is bound to remind some of fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr, especially the being “relentless on the puck” and creating “scoring chances for teammates” part. Also his work ethic, as Jagr’s work ethic was/is legendary across the NHL, something which has allowed him to play well into his forties with no end in sight. Nobody wants to put the burden of him being the “next Jaromir Jagr” on the kid; those were just some observations that stuck out from reading the Central Scouting report on him.
Another scouting report on him states that “he’s got high-end skill and is an excellent competitor; he plays an excellent two-way game. He’s physical and solid on his skates and can separate guys from the puck.” All of this is good news for a Devils front end that sorely needs youth and some of the skill that it brings with it. Hopefully, should he stick with the big club this season, someone like Patrik Elias could make a good mentor for him. Other than that, allowing him to get some seasoning by going back to Sarnia for another year and then, possibly Albany, will probably be the way the Devils will handle it. They do not want to rush things with their prospects and will allow them time to mature and develop, which is something critical in getting the most out of your first round picks. Other than players like McDavid and Eichel, very few prospects are ready to jump into an NHL lineup right away. Think someone like Stefan Matteau here: a player that, while possessing a great skillset, does need time to adjust to playing in the NHL.
The eighteen year-old native of Brno, Czech Republic, who represented the Czech Republic at the 2015 World Junior Championship had 16 goals and 18 assists for 34 points in 37 games for Sarnia last season. Since coming to play in North America, he has “picked up the English language quickly by watching and reciting subtitled versions of his favorite movies, including Dumb and Dumber.” His profile on NHL.com listed his favorite NHL team as the Chicago Blackhawks, his favorite NHL player as Alex Ovechkin, his favorite video game as NHL 15, his favorite actor as Will Smith, favorite musician as Drake and favorite website as NHL.com. He also enjoys basketball and his favorite non-hockey athlete is LeBron James.
According to the Devils official website, this was the 11th time the team has picked in the top ten in team history. In those picks, there have been some hits and misses. For every Scott Niedermayer or Brendan Shanahan, there has been a Rocky Trottier, Neil Brady or Lance Ward. Hopefully, Pavel Zacha can be a long term member of the Devils who produces well and gives nets dividends for the team.
Welcome to New Jersey, Pavel Zacha.