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Pavel Zacha is a disappointing draft pick. At least relative to where he was chosen, and those who came after.
He'll never be a dynamic offensive player like Mathew Barzal, Timo Meier or Mikko Rantanen, and he'll never provide 20+ minutes of quality hockey on a nightly basis like Zach Werenski.
With that said, Zacha is still a useful player. He can really defend, especially on the penalty kill where he has quickly developed into one of the league's best players. Perhaps *the* best. And, no, that's not an exaggeration.
Since Zacha entered the league in 2016-17, 157 forwards have logged at least 200 minutes during 4v5 play. Zacha ranks 1st in expected goals against (4.64), 1st in scoring chances against (35.06), and 7th in goals against (4.53) per 60 minutes played.
Those numbers best the likes of Sean Couturier, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jordan Staal – all elite defensive players – across the board. Zacha is *that* good killing penalties.
His skill set matters, particularly on a team where penalties are an issue. And that will likely be the case in 2019-20.
Miles Wood (11th), Blake Coleman (16th), Wayne Simmonds (29th), and Kyle Palmieri (57th) all rank inside the top-60 in 5v5 minors taken from 2016-19. The average team rosters 1.93 players in the top-60. The Devils, of course, are doubling that. It's important to note one of the perpetrators (Coleman) is also a key penalty killer, opening up even more minutes for Zacha to take.
While Zacha may be penciled in lower on the depth chart than previous years, and carry less of a burden to produce offensively, he might be heading for his most important role yet.
numbers via naturalstattrick.com
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