The New Jersey Devils were dealt an injury blow a month before training camp starts, as the team announced that center Travis Zajac would be out four to six months following an off-season training incident requiring surgery:
BREAKING: Travis Zajac to miss 4-6 months after undergoing successful surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle. https://t.co/qSTvDhAScI
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) August 17, 2017
This isn’t the first time he has suffered a devastating off-season injury, either:
This is almost six years to the day that the Devils announced Zajac ruptured his Achilles in offseason training (Aug. 18, 2011).
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) August 17, 2017
Hoping for a speedy recovery to Mr. Zajac.
Though the raw production had been fine the last couple of years with back-to-back 40-plus point seasons, Zajac had by far the fewest points since the start of the 2014-15 campaign among all forwards with at least 4400 minutes of ice time. What this does do, however, is open up a lot of spots in the center position.
Who This Helps
Presumably, Henrique takes the top-line center position out of the gate for the team. Before all you Nico Hischier dynasty owners start yelling at me, hear me out.
Last year, Zajac finished just shy of 1100 five-on-five minutes (1098:13). That works out to be about 13:45 per game. Over the last three years, other rookie centers like Bo Horvat, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Victor Rask all failed to crack 13 minutes at five-on-five a game. The only rookie centers to manage that were guys like Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. The question, then, is do the Devils see Hischier closer to Kuznetsov or closer to Matthews? My guess is the former.
This isn’t to say that Hischier doesn’t see time on the top line with Taylor Hall. My thought is, though, is that Henrique gets the first crack at the start of the season, and Hischier has the opportunity to play his way into that role.
All this isn’t to say it doesn’t help Hischier. This could (should?) move him onto the second line with Marcus Johansson. That would be a perfect role for him – Henrique’s top line and potential Brian Boyle’s third line could eat the hard minutes. That would give Hischier more ice time in softer minutes with Johansson as his running buddy.
Who his hurts
As I mentioned, Zajac wasn’t stuffing the score sheet, so I’m not sure this really hurts anyone other than Zajac. The team has comparable centers that can fill in his stead, and he doesn’t really have a winger dependent on him for scoring like other top-line centers in the league.
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