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Relative to the players taken around him, Pavel Zacha was not a good pick at 6th overall.
Ivan Provorov was chosen one spot later and looks like he'll be a staple on Philadelphia's top pairing for a decade. Zach Werenski was chosen two spots later and is part of arguably the league's best defense pairing. Mikko Rantanen was chosen four spots later and just put up 84 points while helping lead Colorado back to the playoffs. Mathew Barzal, who I wanted at No. 6, is almost certainly going to win the Calder this year.
By now you get the point. Zacha is not as good as several of the players taken shortly after him and I wouldn't bet on that changing anytime soon.
While he was undoubtedly picked too high, that doesn't mean he's not a useful player. He is.
Zacha hasn't produced as much offense as anyone would have hoped – he's scored at a ~30 point pace two years in a row – but he has made an impact defensively. In particular, he's been exceptional killing penalties.
Since Zacha entered the league, eight different forwards have a) played for New Jersey and; b) logged at least 100 minutes on the penalty kill.
Among them, Zacha ranks 1st in shot suppression, 2nd in goal suppression, and 1st in expected goal suppression.
Analytically speaking, Zacha has been New Jersey's best penalty killer. Nice. Good. Great. More impressively, he's been one of the best in the NHL.
Over the last two seasons, 194 forwards have logged at least 100 minutes on the PK. 194. That's a big number.
Zacha ranks 3rd in Corsi Against/60, 7th in Expected Goals Against, and 17th in Goals Against/60.
Regardless of which metric(s) you prefer to quantify penalty killing success, Zacha comes up at or near the top of the list.
Now if he could find a way to take another step offensively, the Devils could really have something here.
Note: data via Corsica.Hockey.
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