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My Draft Day: Travis Zajac

A first-round surprise for New Jersey's top center

Tuesday, 06.14.2011 / 2:05 PM ET / Draft
By Eric Marin
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My Draft Day: Travis Zajac
Zajac's draft day portrait.
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Of all the prospects whose lives were about to change, there was one teen at the RBC Center who simply didn't expect to hear his name as early as he did.

Travis Zajac's prospect capsule touted him as "patient", "clutch" and "confident." The Associated Press included him on a list of "possible" first-rounders. Yet the humble 19-year-old from Winnipeg wasn't convinced he'd go in the first 30 selections of the 2004 Entry Draft.

Sitting at 22, the Devils traded up two spots, sending a first and a third to Dallas. His agent seemed to know what was about to happen, but Zajac wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't experienced it himself.

The agent was right. Having just enjoyed a 43-goal, 112-point season with Salmon Arm (BCHL), Zajac was taken 20th overall by the three-time Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils.

Zajac spent the next two seasons at University of North Dakota, following in the footsteps of future Devils linemate Zach Parise. The Sioux reached the NCAA title game in 2005, Zajac's freshman season. A year later they were back at the Frozen Four.

Zajac left Grand Forks to begin his pro career and played 80 games as a Devils rookie in 2006-07. He's been one of the game's most reliable two-way centers ever since. The two-time 20-goal scorer and 60-point getter has cracked 40 points in four of his five seasons, hitting the 30-assist plateau in each of the last three.

And he's durable, too. Zajac made his 389th consecutive appearance on March 17, surpassing Ken Daneyko as the Devils' all-time ironman. By season's end, his streak had reached 401, a span that goes all the way back to Oct. 26, 2006.

With the 2011 NHL Entry Draft set for Friday, June 24, we caught up with Zajac to talk about his draft experience. The Devils are set to pick fourth overall, their highest selection since 1991, when they drafted Scott Niedermayer third.

What do you remember from your draft day?
It was in Carolina, I remember that. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go in the draft. I didn’t think I was going to go first round and just sitting there during the draft, I remember my agent telling me that I was going to be up next with the 20th pick, and I’m like, ‘No way.’ I didn’t believe him, and he was like, ‘Yeah, watch.’ I just remember getting called down the stadium and it was pretty exciting. It was a dream come true, obviously, being picked by New Jersey. It was one of the more special moments in my life.

What does that feel like when you first hear your name and reach the podium?
I don’t remember much. My heart was pounding a little. I was a little nervous walking down there. I remember getting on stage with Lou [President, CEO, GM Lamoriello] and [Executive Vice President, Hockey Operations/Director of Scouting] David Conte and thinking to myself, 'Oh, I’m a lot taller than these guys.’ It was fun. It was great to put on the jersey and the hat. That was probably the most exciting part for me was taking the pictures on stage when you put the jersey and hat on.

Had you interviewed much with the Devils?
I did a little bit, yeah. I did before the draft and then at the draft, a couple of days before the draft started. I did some extra interviewing with them so I thought they were maybe one of the teams that could pick me, but like I said, I didn’t really expect to go as high as I did. But it was pretty special. I was there with my dad, and I know he really enjoyed the experience too.

How about being drafted the same day as Kris Chucko, your teammate on Salmon Arm?
It was really cool just because we both had really good years the year before and were obviously good friends. He got drafted 24th (by Calgary) and I remember just seeing him downstairs after. It was pretty fun to see him get drafted and I was happy for him. It was great because we’d both had great seasons to work hard and were pretty excited about it.

You were headed to North Dakota, where Zach had enjoyed two productive seasons before he was drafted by New Jersey.
Yeah, I knew he got drafted by the Devils. I watched him play when I went down on my visit to North Dakota. I just realized then he was a pretty special player. It was pretty neat to see another guy from the Sioux get drafted.

Do you want to hear your prospect capsule? 

“Uses good skating skill to control pace of the game. ... Patient with the puck in drawing opponents to him. Then thrives on one-on-one battles. ... Clutch player who is not afraid to go into the corners. ... A confident puck carrier.”

Is that all still true?

I hope so! That sounds pretty good.

Sounds like you were the perfect player.
I’ve got a lot to live up to, then.
 

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 52 39 9 4 171 117 82
2 FLA 54 32 16 6 150 122 70
3 NYR 53 30 18 5 150 135 65
4 NYI 52 28 18 6 145 129 62
5 TBL 53 29 20 4 140 127 62
6 DET 53 27 18 8 133 131 62
7 BOS 53 28 19 6 153 146 62
8 PIT 52 27 18 7 138 132 61
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 MTL 55 27 24 4 147 145 58
11 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
12 OTT 54 25 23 6 153 166 56
13 PHI 52 23 20 9 122 137 55
14 BUF 54 21 27 6 124 146 48
15 CBJ 55 21 28 6 137 170 48
16 TOR 52 19 24 9 120 144 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
L. Stempniak 55 15 25 6 40
M. Cammalleri 42 14 24 15 38
A. Henrique 53 18 18 14 36
K. Palmieri 55 20 15 3 35
T. Zajac 47 8 18 7 26
D. Schlemko 47 6 9 -8 15
A. Larsson 55 2 11 12 13
D. Severson 51 1 12 -1 13
A. Greene 55 4 6 2 10
J. Josefson 44 3 7 -14 10
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 24 16 6 .930 2.01
K. Kinkaid 3 5 1 .909 2.52
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