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30 in 30: X-factor Zajac must produce for Devils

Sunday, 08.25.2013 / 1:20 PM ET / News
By Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer
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30 in 30: X-factor Zajac must produce for Devils
Travis Zajac struggled without Zach Parise last season, scoring seven goals in 48 games. And with Ilya Kovalchuk\'s departure this summer, the New Jersey Devils will need much more from Zajac in 2013-14.

Two seasons ago, New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac was sidelined by injury for more than half the schedule, but the team persevered and went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.

A healthy Zajac returned to the lineup and appeared in all 48 games last season, but produced seven goals and 20 points, not the output one would expect from a player about to begin the first season of an eight-year, $46 million contract.

In order for the Devils to have success in 2013-14, they'll need Zajac to rediscover his offensive game.

It got to a point last season that coach Peter DeBoer had no choice but to move Zajac to a third-line role in an effort to relieve some pressure and, perhaps, jump-start the offense. When the Devils opened the season 8-1-3 and Zajac stumbled out the gate with two goals and one assist during that stretch, it was much easier to accept because the team was winning.

Then the Devils began to struggle, and Zajac, who arguably is the organization's top center, couldn't seem to shift into that next gear. It wasn't too much of a surprise that Zajac's offensive woes were magnified following the departure of Zach Parise via free agency to the Minnesota Wild in the summer of 2012. But that's ancient history now, and it's time the 2004 first-round pick (No. 20) begins to shoulder more of the offensive burden as a respected 28-year-old top-line center in the League.

With Ilya Kovalchuk gone now, too, the Devils really need Zajac to regain his form from 2008-09 and 2009-10, when he had at least 20 goals and 60 points in each season.

One area DeBoer needn't concern himself with is Zajac's ability on faceoffs. He has ranked among the top two players on the team in faceoff winning percentage in five of the past six seasons; the only time he didn't was his injury-plagued 2011-12.

Zajac led the team with a 57.4 percent faceoff percentage last season, winning 506 of 881 draws.

Don't be surprised if DeBoer has Zajac centering Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder to open the season in an attempt to give him a fresh start and, at the same time, begin forming some chemistry with two of the newest Devils.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mikemorrealeNHL

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - NYR 73 47 19 7 224 168 101
2 MTL 75 46 21 8 197 167 100
3 TBL 75 46 22 7 244 194 99
4 NYI 75 44 26 5 228 208 93
5 PIT 74 40 23 11 204 186 91
6 DET 73 39 22 12 212 201 90
7 WSH 74 40 24 10 215 182 90
8 OTT 73 37 25 11 213 195 85
9 BOS 74 36 25 13 195 193 85
10 FLA 74 34 26 14 184 202 82
11 PHI 75 30 29 16 196 216 76
12 NJD 74 31 31 12 166 189 74
13 CBJ 73 34 35 4 198 228 72
14 CAR 73 27 36 10 170 201 64
15 TOR 75 27 42 6 194 241 60
16 BUF 74 20 46 8 141 249 48

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
A. Henrique 67 16 24 -2 40
M. Cammalleri 60 25 12 5 37
S. Gomez 50 7 24 -7 31
P. Elias 61 10 20 -16 30
S. Bernier 59 13 14 3 27
T. Zajac 66 11 12 -2 23
A. Larsson 56 3 19 3 22
A. Greene 74 3 17 5 20
M. Ryder 47 6 13 -1 19
E. Gelinas 54 6 11 -2 17
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 26 27 8 .928 2.19
K. Kinkaid 5 4 3 .919 2.42