Over the last few years I've been preaching that Travis Zajac is not only criminally underrated, but one of the better two-way forwards in the league. Due to him not being an elite producer in terms of offense, a lot of that has fallen on deaf ears.
Since the Devils aren't playing hockey anymore, I had some time to dive into the numbers to see just how good Zajac is, and how his numbers compare to the top two-way forwards in hockey.
For the purpose of the article, I used this year's Selke nominees Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews as comparisons to see how Zajac measures up against the best of the best.
Note: For those who don't know, Corsi is simply shot attempts for. If a player has a 55% Corsi rating, 55% of the shot attempts were taken by his team while 45% came against. Corsi relative is the number relative to the team's average. If the team is a 50% possession (Corsi team) and a player has a 56% Corsi rating, he'd be +6. SAA is shot attempts against per 20 minutes of 5 vs 5 ice, ES SC% is even strength scoring chance for% and lastly DZS% is the percentage of shifts a player starts in the defensive zone.
While Zajac isn't all that close to the Selke candidates in terms of 5 vs 5 production, he is playing with much lesser linemates in terms of offensive talent, and played on one of the lowest scoring teams in hockey.
He surprisingly has the worst Corsi rating despite it being unbelievably good, however, he is ahead of Toews in terms of Corsi relative to the team's success without him on the ice. Zajac is the best in terms of limiting shot attempts against, too, as less than 13 are fired at the Devils' net for every 20 minutes of 5 vs 5 ice.
The Devils also generated 59% of the scoring chances while Zajac was on the ice, according to SomeKindOfNinja.com's scoring chance charts, despite starting almost a third of his shifts in his own zone. Patrice Bergeron posted similar numbers while starting over a third of his sifts in the defensive zone and playing top competition, which is remarkable.
Basically what the chart shows is, while Zajac trails the other Selke candidates in most categories, he holds his own, and the difference is closer than many would expect.
With some better linemates who can contribute offensively (aka. not Dainius Zubrus or Tuomo Ruutu), Zajac could post good enough numbers to eventually warrant a Selke nomination.
In typical Devils fashion, he is flying under the radar, and failing to receive anywhere near the recognition he deserves. Zajac may not be a household name, but he's one of the top two-way forwards in hockey, and should be recognized as such.
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