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It's kind of funny how expectations shape your opinions of players. Pavel Zacha was labeled as a bust playing horrible hockey who was rightfully sent to the AHL. While it's only been three games, I've seen a lot of positive comments about Brett Seney and how he has provided a spark up front. Statistically speaking, his performance has clearly been inferior to Zacha's.
As you can see, the Devils controlled a larger share of the shot attempts and chances with Zacha. He was ripped for his lack of contribution offensively yet he generated shots at a much higher clip and was also involved in a (slightly) higher percentage of the shot attempts.
Beyond making more of an impact at 5v5, Zacha also served as an elite penalty killer on a team that takes a lot of them.
I can be sold on sending Zacha to the AHL to play big minutes and develop offensively, however, anyone claiming the Devils improved by doing so is in left-field.
I don't think Travis Zajac is getting enough credit for how good he's been this season. He was strong defensively in the early going while centering the 3rd line. Since Zacha was sent down he's been asked to take on a larger role offensively and he's handled himself admirably scoring twice in three games.
On the year, he is the lone bottom-9 forward rostered with a Corsi For above 50%. He is tied for the team-lead in 5v5 scoring with eight points and, through six tracked games, only Taylor Hall has more shot assists in that game state.
Though overpaid, he is still a very useful two-way center and the Devils would be in a lot of trouble without him. If he's the worst contract on the books, the team is doing pretty well for itself.
Below are the shot contribution numbers for Devils defenders in the six games I've tracked thus far.
We're still dealing with a small sample size but the early returns should not surprise anyone. Sami Vatanen is firing pucks from anywhere and everywhere, Will Butcher is the best facilitator in terms of shot assist%, Damon Severson is somewhere in the middle, and the defensive-minded guys round out the bottom-3. Mirco Mueller has been more involved of late and yet his contribution% is still less than half that of his partner.
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