No one needs to tell Zach Parise the 50-goal mark is within reach.
The New Jersey forward is already quite aware that the magic number keeps getting closer and closer. While he’d love to become the first Devils player ever to hit it, he’s currently doing all he can not to think about it.
“You don’t want to get too focused in on a number, then you start doing things that are uncharacteristic,” Parise said Tuesday during a conference call. “I don’t want to keep thinking every day, ‘I’ve got to score tonight, I’ve got to try and get 50.’
“You don’t want to get caught up in that. You just want keep playing the same way you have been all season. There’s a reason why we are where we are right now – I don’t want to change anything.”
It’s an understandable position for him to take.
While Parise has shown himself to be a solid player during his first couple years in New Jersey, he’s taken it to another level this season. His 32 goals are currently third-best in the NHL and he sits comfortably inside the top 10 in points as well.
Most importantly, the success has come quite naturally for Parise on a line with Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner.
“It just seems as if every game we’re getting good scoring chances,” he said. “We’re all feeding off each other. We’ve made the game pretty easy for each other.”
Parise is currently on pace for 49 goals – one short of the NHL’s big milestone number, but one better than Brian Gionta’s franchise record of 48.
One of the more striking things about his production this season is just how consistent it’s been. He’s scored a goal in 29 of New Jersey’s 54 games so far.
Parise admits to feeling more comfortable in his fourth NHL season. The 24-year-old has cracked the 30-goal barrier each of the last two years and is currently building on that success.
“You get a little more comfortable, a little more confident,” said Parise. “You’re not scared to make plays. You want to try things that maybe you wouldn’t do a couple years ago.”
While his standout play is obviously being welcomed by the Devils, there are several others around the league taking note as well. Start with Brian Burke, the GM of the U.S. team for the 2010 Olympics.
Parise’s 63 points are currently 18 more than any other American-born player – Langenbrunner and Chicago’s Patrick Kane are next with 45 – and make him a front-runner for inclusion on his first Olympic team.
That would be a dream come true for the native of Minneapolis, whose father J.P. played for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.
“I definitely think about it a lot,” said Parise. “It’s a goal of mine. I’ve always wanted to play in the Olympics, I’ve always wanted to represent my country.”
A recent road trip through Western Canada got him thinking even more about the 2010 Games. The tournament is now a little over a year away.
“We just went to Vancouver at the beginning of January,” said Parise. “You can tell already the excitement that’s there. It’s really going to be a great place to have it.
“I just hope I’m there to play because I think it’s going to be a great event.”
Barring something unforeseen happening over the next year, there should be little doubt about his attendance.
Parise has already represented the U.S. at six different international events, winning gold at the world under-18 tournament in 2002 and again at the world juniors in 2004. The second of those victories came in a back-and-forth game with Canada.
Ask to handicap the other countries set to compete in Vancouver next year, Parise went with a diplomatic answer.
“It’s tough not to look at the depth of the Canadian roster,” he said. “It’s almost as if they could field two teams and be competitive in the tournament. …
“You always expect them to be the team to beat.”
At least the U.S. will have a better shot at doing that with him in the lineup.