On Marcus Johansson and Pavel Zacha
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Word out of training camp is Marcus Johansson has fully recovered from a pair of concussions last year and will be ready to play as soon as John Hynes and the coaching staff sees fit.
That is really good news for the Devils. Beyond Taylor Hall and the top line, the Devils didn't have many – any? – reliable offensive players who consistently made a difference.
A healthy Johansson would help change that. The speedy winger has averaged 48.75 points over his last four full seasons and is one of the more gifted playmakers on the roster.
While expectations were a little too high for him entering last season – for some reason many thought there would be a production spike despite Johansson playing a similar role with a lesser supporting cast than he had in Washington – I do think he is a really good bet to contribute 45-50 points.
Those may not be eye-popping numbers but, thanks to Kyle Palmieri missing 20 games, only two Devils (Hall and Nico Hischier) put up 45+ points last season. Getting that out of MoJo would be huge.
When discussing Pavel Zacha's importance to the Devils moving forward, GM Ray Shero noted he's happy with his performance – particularly defensively – and is optimistic he can still grow offensively.
Shero compared the early stages of Zacha's career to that of Philadelphia Flyers forward Sean Couturier.
Excerpt courtesy of The Athletic:
Someone said, ‘What does he need to do to make that next step?’ And I said, ‘Take the next step.’ He’s a guy who is almost like Sean Courtier. Sean was the seventh overall pick and came in at 18 years old. He had a role and he’d score 13 goals, 15 goals. And then all of a sudden in what was it … year six? He comes in and scores (31) goals and he’s a heck of a hockey player. He can play both sides of the puck and he finally had that outbreak offensively. Pavel is very good defensively, very conscientious. He’s a big, strong kid who can really shoot the puck and we want him to do more of that. We’ve been through this with young players. This is his third year. He’s a good young player and an important part of what we’re trying to do. It hard to find center icemen, and especially ones with the size and skill like he has.
I won't lie, I thought that comparison was extremely optimistic when I read it. Then I looked at some numbers and the first two years of their careers are quite similar.
I still don't think Zacha will ever reach that level – last season Couturier was a 30+ goal, 75+ point player who provided elite defense – but it does give hope that Zacha can still take a big step forward in the coming years.
Note: data via Corsica.Hockey
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