ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2015 NHL Draft in Florida on June 26-27. Pavel Zacha is the No. 8-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the 10th overall selection at the draft.
Pavel Zacha has the potential of becoming a game changer in the NHL one day. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he has the skill and size to make him one of the most appealing picks for a team in search of a physical, two-way player.
The native of Brno, Czech Republic grew up exceling at the game of hockey. For the 2013-14 season, Zacha skated for Liberec, a team in the Czech Republic’s top professional league. Zacha played in 38 games and collected four goals and four assists while being the youngest player on the roster.
A teammate of his that year was Petr Nedved, a forward that had a successful career in the NHL after being selected second overall in the 1990 draft by the Vancouver Canucks. Nedved played in 982 games for seven different teams in his NHL career, and the veteran took it upon himself to help Zacha with the process of transitioning toward the NHL.
"He would help me in practices and talk to me in the locker room," Zacha said to NHL.com. "I was young and to have a guy like Petr Nedved come over to you, sit down and ask if I had any questions was something I'll never forget."
Nedved, 43, gave the 18-year-old advice based on his experiences, and tried to prepare Zacha for what was to come when playing hockey on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
"We talked about the style of play in North America, how to shoot it during a game from all areas and what decisions I needed to make quickly," Zacha said. "It wasn't so much preparation as it was on-ice stuff. How to make plays and how to shoot from the corner."
The transition to North American play ended up being a smooth process for Zacha.
The Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League selected him with the first overall pick in the 2014 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, and Zacha flourished. He garnered 16 goals and 18 assists in just 37 contests, averaging just shy of a point-per-game.
When comparing the difference on the ice from the Czech Republic to the OHL, Zacha found that he could use his big frame more to his advantage in the smaller rink.
"I like the game here because I'm big and strong so I can use that to my advantage on the smaller ice and in the corners,” he said. “I can just play more physical than in Europe."
NHL Central Scouting has Zacha at No. 8 for North American skaters in its final rankings entering this year’s draft, and his physicality at both ends of the ice is a big reason why.
“He's got high-end skill and is an excellent competitor; he plays an excellent two-way game,” said Chris Edwards of Central Scouting. “He's physical and solid on his skates and can separate guys from the puck."
The left-shot center doesn’t only pay attention to his game on the offensive end; he also takes pride in what he can do defensively.
"All my life I try to play a two-way game because here in Canada that's the way you have to play,” said Zacha. “You can score goals but you can't allow them so you have to work hard in your own end too."
Sting general manager Nick Sinclair was impressed by Zacha, not only for what he could do in a game but also by the attitude he displayed on a daily basis.
"His on-ice talent speaks for itself, but he has been just as valuable off the ice for our hockey club," Sinclair said of Zacha to NHL.com. "He's a natural leader with high character and has been a great fit for us.
“He’s a very intelligent young man both on and off the ice."
Zacha is one of many talented players in this year’s draft class, and whichever team ends up getting their hands on him at the end of the month will be thrilled as his potential is through the roof.