NEWARK, NJ - I had to warn Travis Zajac. The interview was going to be about him and his personal success.
A warning, because hockey players don't like to talk about themselves. It's always 'about the team', which is fair.
But sometimes you have to try.
Zajac is as humble as they come, so when I handed him a piece of paper in the New Jersey Devils locker room filled with his personal stats, he gave me that look.
"I know," I said. "I know you don't want to talk about you, but we're going to do it anyway."
He obliged, though I could see the reluctance in his face to not want to talk about himself.
But the truth is, entering his 14th season, Zajac will continue to climb his way up into the Devils records books and it's worth talking about. He's already in plenty of Top 10 lists, even a couple of Top 5. But this coming season, there's an opportunity to enter more top 5 and few top 3 in franchise history.
I handed Zajac a piece of paper that laid out just how close he is in eight different all-time Devils stats.
He took a moment to glance it over, even a little longer than I thought he would. But then the humbleness kicked in.
"It's kind of cool, I guess," Zajac said. "Really right now, it doesn't mean anything but I think when I'm done playing and have time to reflect and see some of these great players that have played and I've looked up to and modeled my game after on this list, that's kind of humbling to see that."
There are a lot of notable Devils players on the lists to follow, names and greats that Zajac is currently approaching. As he glances over the list, he continues: "Playing with Scott Gomez, having John MacLean as a coach, these are all guys I've learned from, so that part is neat to kind of be in some of the same categories as them."
Ask the native Winnipegger and longtime Devil about his stats, and he'll be honest with you. He truly doesn't think about them.
"Honestly, I don't," he said. "I think for me, as soon as you start thinking about stats and where you are in goals, even during the year itself, it can really take away from your game and what's important."
But his numbers are important because they solidify Travis Zajac as one of the all-time greats to pull on the New Jersey Devils jersey.
On October 6, 2006, Zajac stepped onto the ice in Carolina to make his NHL debut. Drafted by the New Jersey Devils two years prior, Zajac made an immediate impact on the team in his rookie season. Little did we know then with his 42 points in 80 games, scoring 17 goals and 25 assists, Zajac was embarking on a career where he would climb into the Devils franchise record books.
Fast-forward to 2019, the now 34-year-old is about to suit up for his 14th NHL season, all with New Jersey. A model of consistency over his career, including eight seasons with 80+ games played, this coming year, Zajac will work his way up in the record books.
In order to determine the likelihood that Zajac will move his way up the ladder, I looked at Travis' average outputs over the past five seasons in order to determine whether the milestones are realistically attainable.
Total Games Played:
On February 19th, 2019 Zajac suited up against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Prudential Center for his 900th career game. The career-long New Jersey Devil finished the season with 922 total games played, which is sixth all-time in franchise history. With 12 more games this upcoming season, Zajac will tie John MacLean for fifth all-time on the list with 934 games. And once he hits that 13th game of the year he will take over sole possession of fifth-all time with 935.
Barring any circumstance for which Zajac may not play in the first 13 games of the season, he would hit the fifth all-time mark when the Devils travel to Zajac's hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba which could make the occasion that sweeter for the former first-round pick.
With 34 games played this upcoming year, Zajac will tie Scott Stevens for fourth overall (956 GP), and surpass him to claim sole possession with his 35th game.
- Ken Danyeko - 1283
- Martin Brodeur - 1259
- Patrik Elias - 1240
- Scott Stevens - 956
- John MacLean - 934
(6) Travis Zajac - 922
Already in the Top 5 on the franchise all-time goals list with 186 goals, Zajac may end up in the Top Three by season's end. Zajac has averaged 14 goals a year these past five seasons, including a 19-goal output in 2018-19. There is a distinct chance that he will move up into a tie with former teammate Zach Parise for fourth all-time with 194 goals. Zajac needs just eight goals to reach the mark.
"I'm looking at Zach and he did it in three seasons," Zajac joked. "So, it's taken me thirteen! I mean, it's cool. I grew up watching Patty and I used to play with him here, he was a big mentor for me in my game and teaching me how to be a pro."
It's not impossible to even consider Bobby Holik's third-overall standing with 202 goals as a reachable mark. Zajac would need 16 goals this season to tie Holik, 17 to surpass him.
- Patrik Elias - 408
- John MacLean - 347
- Bobby Holik - 202
- Zach Parise - 194
- Travis Zajac - 186
If moving up in the all-time goals wasn't enough, the assist category is also within striking distance. Averaging 22.8 assists per season over the past five years, including 27 in 2018-19, Zajac needs 14 assists in 2019-20 to tie Kirk Muller at 6th on the all-time list with 335. Zajac's current 321 assists is also 16 away from moving him into the top five in franchise history. Sixteen assists would tie Scott Stevens with 337 for fifth overall.
- Patrik Elias - 617
- Scott Niedermayer - 364
- Scott Gomez - 361
- John MacLean - 354
- Scott Stevens - 337
(7) Travis Zajac - 321
It only makes sense if Travis is moving up in goals and assists, all-time points would be our next category. He currently ranks fourth all-time with 507 points. This past January Zajac overtook fourth all-time passing Scott Gomez with an assist that marked his 485th career point. Zajac's next target is once again Kirk Muller. To move into a tie for third all-time, Zajac will need at least 13 points in 2019-20. Given his average of 36.8 points a season over the past five years, it's a mark you'd expect Zajac to easily attain this year.
- Patrik Elias - 1025
- John MacLean - 701
- Kirk Muller - 520
- Travis Zajac - 507
- Scott Gomez - 484
All-Time Even Strength Goals:
Already in the franchise's Top 5 in even-strength goals with 123, Zajac has former teammate Zach Parise in sight next. Parise had 138 even-strength goals for New Jersey for fourth all-time. Zajac is 13 off the mark and with an average 16 even-strength tallies per season, the opportunity is there to match or surpass Parise this season.
- Patrik Elias - 279
- John MacLean - 245
- Bobby Holik - 158
- Zach Parise - 138
- Travis Zajac - 123
All-Time Power Play Goals:
Currently, in the fifth spot on the all-time list for power-play goals, Zajac is just one man-advantage tally off from tying Pat Verbeek for fourth all-time. Zajac has 52 power-play goals in his career, compared to Verbeek's 53. With an average of 6.2 power-play goals per season, the expectation is Zajac will claim sole possession of fourth relatively quickly this year.
- Patrik Elias - 113
- John MacLean - 92
- Kirk Muller - 69
- Pat Verbeek - 53
- Travis Zajac - 52
All-Time Shorthanded Goals:
Zajac is already in the Top Five for shorthanded goals in franchise history. Tied for fourth all-time in shorthanded goals with Stefan Richer and Doug Brown, Zajac is two shorties away from entering the top three. Former teammate Adam Henrique currently owns the third all-time spot with 13. In each of the past five seasons, Zajac has scored at least one goal while on the penalty kill, including two in the 2018-19 season, and adding just one more could very well happen this season to tie Henrique. He's also not that far off from both the second or top spot in franchise history. Those positions belong to Patrik Elias (16) and John Madden (17) respectively.
- John Madden - 17
- Patrik Elias - 16
- Adam Henrique - 13
- Travis Zajac, Doug Brown, Stefan Richer - 11 (tied)
- Brian Rolston, John MacLean, Jamie Langenbrunner - 10 (tied)
Zajac is currently on the outside looking in on the Devils top-five in total shots, but that won't last very long. He'll move into a tie for fifth overall when he fires off his 10th shot this year. Parise currently sits alone in the fifth spot with 1699 shots with New Jersey, while Zajac has 1989. Zajac averages 112 shots a season, which could also move him into a tie for fourth all-time. The spot is currently held by Scott Stevens with 1779, 90 shots ahead of Zajac.
- Patrick Elias - 3287
- John MacLean - 2715
- Bobby Holik - 2046
- Scott Stevens - 1779
- Zach Parise - 1699
(6) Travis Zajac - 1689
At the end of the day, Zajac will go down as one of the most respected and greats to wear the Devils jersey. But for him, the stats don't mean anything. After thirteen seasons, he's not chasing these lists. He wants to be a Stanley Cup Champion.
"For me the biggest thing in my career right now is trying to win," he said. "You never really think about that earlier on in your career, you think you're going to have a chance, and everyone wins a Cup. But now that I'm in the later stages of my career that's really my focus now, trying to help this team win and be a part of a team that wins more than anything."