The New Jersey Devils are without a doubt going to get younger as a team and they took one of the first big steps towards that Tuesday, signing 18-year-old first-round pick Pavel Zacha to a three-year entry level deal.
Zacha, 18, was selected sixth overall by the Devils in the 2015 draft. Suiting up for the Sarnia Sting this past season, Zacha registered 16 goals and 34 points in 37 games and took off to play internationally for the Czech Republic at both the under-18 and under-20 World Junior Championships. At the U18 tournament, Zacha notched five goals in five games, adding another goal and two points at the U20 competition.
"It's my goal for this season to play in the NHL, and now I just have to show everyone I can make the team and I'll do everything for that (chance),” Zacha told NHL.com. "Camp is coming up and I am going there and I am going to get ready now for it. I've never been in a full camp of the NHL before; I was just at Devils (development) camp.”
The contract for Zacha comes only a few days before the deadline for draftees to sign. Zacha would have been ineligible for the upcoming season had he not signed a deal by Saturday.
Whether or not Zacha actually makes the club out of camp is debatable, but to say he doesn’t have a shot would be misguided. Though he’s only played one season in North America — last year’s campaign with the Sting — Zacha would likely be able to slot in on the right wing for the Devils and provide some offensive punch.
This past season, the Devils were 28th in offense with 2.15 goals-per-game and were shutout seven times. Their top scorer was Adam Henrique, who barely cracked the 40-point plateau with 16 goals and 43 points. Only five players scored more than 30 points and two of them -- Scott Gomez and Steve Bernier -- aren't coming back. Considering the current right wing depth on the Devils consists of Kyle Palmieri, Sergey Kalinin, Jordin Tootoo and Mike Sislo, there is an obvious spot where Zacha can slot in.
What the Devils will need to take into consideration, however, is Zacha’s development. Do they risk stunting his growth if he struggles during his first NHL campaign? Would they have to burn a year of his contract before sending him back to the OHL? There are many variables that would be important for the Devils to consider, and it’s not as if the Devils are in a position to compete for the Stanley Cup in 2015-16.
In all likelihood, the situation in New Jersey is a recipe for Zacha to get his 10-game tryout and then head back to Sarnia where he can continue to compete against players his own age. Once back with the Sting, he’ll be free take part in the World Juniors and develop in the areas the Devils wish him to before getting a full shot at the NHL in 2016-17. There’s no rush, and GM Ray Shero and coach John Hynes won’t want to risk hurting the development a player who could be a top-tier talent in New Jersey for years to come.