Travis Zajac got paid right before the lockout shortened season last year. He was given a max-years contract worth $46 million. He is expected to be a top-line center with a salary and contract of that caliber.
Zajac was technically a top-line center all season, playing on the first line alongside Jaromir Jagr nearly every game. They worked so well together that when Peter DeBoer separated them, Jagr was very vocal about how he did not like it. The problem was they couldn’t find a left wing to work with them. They had players like Tuomu Ruutu, Reid Boucher, Jacob Josefson, Joe Whitney, Damien Brunner and Patrik Elias, among others. Even with seemingly a different linemate every night, this line still dominated at times.
Many will point to Jagr’s awesome season as to why this was a true top line, but don’t take away from how well Zajac set everyone up. He is the best true center on this team. The only thing you would want is more consistent scoring. Only scoring 18 goals, including only three on the power play, makes you wish he hit the back of the net more often.
This season was a nice turnaround for Zajac, who had two rough seasons in a row. In 2011-12, he missed all but 15 regular season games due to injury. In the lockout shortened 2013, he never seemed to get his legs under him and only shot 8.5 percent. This was the most points he recorded since 2009-10 when he broke out with a 67-point campaign.
He was the only New Jersey Devil who did well in the faceoff circle, winning 54.6 percent of his 1,394 attempts. That was a huge reason why Jagr was so successful this season.
What you really like to see is Zajac had his best scoring month in March when the team was running towards a playoff position. He scored seven goals and had seven assists in that month. When the team was holding onto a glimmer of playoff hope in April, he played over 20 minutes in six straight games. When the team needed him, he was at their beck and call.
Zajac had a good season in 2013-14, and whether or not that is because of Jagr doesn’t matter. He posted a plus-three in plus/minus, which tied for second on the team. He led all forwards with average time on ice at 20:19 per game. He was a crucial part of this team and will continue to be for years to come.
Season Grade: A