This past summer, Pavel Zacha took his off-ice training to another level as he prepared to take the next step in his career as a hockey player. Having played center his entire career, he was determined to play that position in the NHL, but knew he'd need to prove he was strong enough to stay there. We saw that strength in Tuesday night's win against Arizona when Taylor Hall scored his second goal of the game off a face-off win by Zacha.
Video: ARI@NJD: Hall picks the corner with quick snap shot
When asked if that was a set play, Hall said yes and further explained: "You usually can't run that play with a 19-year-old centerman, but he's so big and strong, he's able to win battles and face-offs like that."
Faceoffs have been a big focus for Zacha because he knows he has to win them more often than not if he wants to continue playing up the middle. He even asked veteran Vern Fiddler to help him learn the tricks of the trade with extra reps after practice in order to get better.
Head coach John Hynes had Zacha centering the third line to start the season, but he's spent the better part of the past two games centering Hall and Kyle Palmieri.
"He's shown that he's been able to do a good job and handle that [responsibility]," Hynes said. "He's shown that when he's got energy and he's engaged in the game, he can play anywhere [in our lineup]."
Said Palmieri: "He plays a more mature game than a lot of guys his age. He does a lot of the little things right, which helps us come out of our own zone and keeps us playing offense, which is the exciting part of the game."
While Zacha has been known for his offensive ability playing in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting, he takes tremendous pride in his defensive game and strives to be a strong 200-foot player. He knows that if his wingers are confident in his ability to have their back defensively, they will be able to take more risks offensively and, in the end, that should result in more goals and hopefully more wins, too.
"He's a great young player. He's a guy that's big and strong and he's very capable in his own end. For a player of his age, you usually don't see that," said Hall. "Usually it takes a lot of time to be a guy that can be relied on there, but he's proven himself and it's been fun playing with him."