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11/16 NJD vs. TOR Pregame Preview: Zajac to return in Toronto

Travis Zajac will skate with Jesper Bratt and Drew Stafford for the first time tonight

by Amanda Stein @AmandaCStein / newjerseydevils.com

11/16 Pregame: NJD vs. TOR

11/16 Pregame Preview: NJD vs. TOR

New Jersey kicks off a three-game road trip on Thursday in Toronto

  • 01:53 •

TORONTO - He's back. 

Travis Zajac will make his season debut tonight in Toronto when the New Jersey Devils visit the Maple Leafs. 

Zajac returns to the lineup after recovering from surgery for a torn left pectoral muscle sustained during the offseason. Zajac had a conversation with coach John Hynes this morning to make the decision official and make sure everyone was on the same page with his health. 

"[We] kind of just kind of went over the week and how I felt," said Zajac in front of a large media crowd. "The expectations the first couple games here of what they want me to accomplish and feel good and go from there." 

Zajac was originally given a three-to-four-month timeline for a return back in August. He didn't exactly have this game pegged as his season debut, but said he looks forward to being back on the ice as quickly as he is. 

"I think just talking with the doctor we had an internal timeline of probably closer to three to four months," Zajac said. "Just depending on how things progressed, how my strength and conditioning was. We knew it was going to heal properly, it was just a matter of how much I was going to be able to push it."

He will center the second line with Jesper Bratt and Drew Stafford on his wings, while Nico Hischier remains on the top line with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. 

Just about everyone on the Devils' roster is looking forward to having Zajac back in the fold. 

"It's huge, it's huge for our team," Hall said. "He is such a valuable piece on both sides of the puck. The way he plays defensively pushes everyone down a peg and he takes a lot of responsibility that way. So It's huge for our team. 

Adam Henrique added: "It's exciting and great to have him back around all the guys. He certainly creates a presence for us out there. With him coming back it just makes our team so much deeper. I'm sure if you ask the coach that just makes his job a little easier to be able to just roll through the lines. Not just 5 on 5, on PK he's a presence, and around the locker room for the young guys." 

Brian Boyle will also have a special night. He makes his first return to Toronto. He was traded to the Leafs from the Lightning at the trade deadline last year, and joined the Devils this past offseason. Boyle remembers his few short months in Toronto fondly.

"It was overall a pretty cool experience to come in here and play in this market and in this city," said Boyle. "The playoff games, and the reception I had were great."

One notable absence tonight with be on the Leafs' side of the lineup. NHL star Auston Matthews will be out. The 2016 No. 1 overall pick will miss his fourth straight game with an upper body injury, changing the dynamics of the game. 

Cory Schneider gets the start for the Devils,who are playing game No. 2 of a four game road trip. Pavel Zacha, Jimmy Hayes and Dalton Prout will be healthy scratches. 

Lines and pairings:

Hall-Hischier-Palmieri
Bratt-Zajac-Stafford
Henrique-Boyle-Wood
Gibbons-Coleman-Noesen 

Greene-Santini
Moore-Severson 
Butcher-Lovejoy 

Schneider

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