Travis Zajac signed an eight-year deal after the lockout ended with expectations that he would be the top-line center for the New Jersey Devils. Maybe he buckled under the pressure of signing a big contract, but Zajac failed to live up to his end of the bargain during the 2013 NHL season.
Last season, Zajac was the difference-maker down the stretch as the Devils got hot and made a deep playoff run. When he returned from the injury that saw his franchise-record for consecutive games played snap, New Jersey found their missing link. The Devils went on a long winning streak to close out the season and cruised to the Stanley Cup.
Zajac made the Devils’ top line complete, working well with former-captain Zach Parise and the Devils’ best offensive weapon in Ilya Kovalchuk. He won faceoffs, and he facilitated scoring for two excellent forwards.
Perhaps playing with less talented players hurt Zajac this year, as New Jersey frequently rotated their top six skaters. Still Zajac was playing with the most talented offensive line the Devils had, and he simply failed to produce.
In 48 games, Zajac tallied just seven goals. He played most of the year on the same line as New Jersey’s leading point scorer in Patrik Elias and their leading goal scorer in David Clarkson, yet he only added 13 assists. As a center, Zajac’s 20 points left much to be desired.
As important as Zajac was to the Devils’ run last season, his lack of production may have derailed the New Jersey offense in 2013. He needs to bounce back or the Devils could find themselves overpaying for a faceoff specialist on the third line. After the emergence of Andrei Loktionov on the top line and the expectation that Adam Henrique will continue to develop, Zajac did little to cement his spot in the top two lines.