NEWARK, NJ - At the end of the 2018-19 Devils season, something clicked for Pavel Zacha.
It hadn't been an easy year, coupled with injuries and a stint with Binghamton in the AHL, the 22-year-old needed something to change.
Video: RAW | Pavel Zacha 9.11.19
"He needs to be harder on the puck. He needs to be more competitive when he has it. He's a big, strong kid who can skate well," head coach John Hynes said earlier last season of Zacha.
And perhaps that message finally sunk in. So, Zacha took it upon himself to put it into practice.
"I think I played more hard to play against, at the end [of the season] I competed," Zacha said standing in front of his stall in the Devils locker room. "The coaches were really on me onto that, I think I finally took it as my own... by the last three months I think you could see the difference."
On September 10, Zacha signed a new three-year deal with New Jersey to remain with the club that drafted him in 2015. In the nick of time, the ink was dry on his new contract, just two days before the start of training camp.
"It's nice just to be here with all the guys," he said. "I can just focus on hockey now and getting ready for the season. I'm really happy that ended up like it did and I'm here now."
He set a career-high in goals with 13 and added another 12 assists. His 25 points equaled his career-high points total, set the year prior. Upon returning from injury, Zacha had a stretch of six points in seven games to close out the season with 1 goal and five assists. The three-year deal gives Zacha the opportunity to show the club how he can continually improve as a player.
"It's just to get better every year," he said. "I think I've got better since I got here, every year a little bit. Just for me to have a three-year deal I think it's good for both sides. We're happy, the Devils are happy so I think every year I can get better […] I think it's for me to show up and be a better player [every year]."
Now the focus turns to harness the end-of-year success and make sure it carries over into the new year. The three-year deal sets him up with an opportunity to prove himself to the club that drafted him in 2015. Spending a lot of time watching video of his games from last season, Zacha saw where he needed the biggest change in his game.
"I spent a lot of my summer watching my game and trying to fix some stuff that I can do better from last seasons game," reflected Zacha. "I was thinking about the stuff that I need to do to have a really good start of the season, which was a little bit trouble for me last year."
He hopes to capitalize on what he saw this summer as his area's in need of improvement.
"I think I have had good defense last year and stuff," he added. "But the offense, I was still struggling at the beginning of the season. [I focused on] my plays in the corners, being really strong in the corners and going to the net and not waiting for what's going to happen. So, a lot of things that I saw in the videos, that I waited a little bit longer than I should have in the corners, I just need to make a little more plays. So, I was focusing a lot on my offensive kind of game and hopefully, I can bring that into camp and the season."