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Zajac aims to improve for 2013-14

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac would like to put last season in the rear-view mirror.

During the opening day of on-ice activity at the team's training camp at AmeriHealth Pavilion on Thursday, the 28-year-old had no choice as coach Peter DeBoer had him alongside two of the finest Czech players to ever lace on the blades in the NHL -- Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias.

"They certainly are creative," Zajac said. "I think when you're playing with those guys, it's about controlling the puck. They're going to make plays and get into the open, so as a center you have to find holes and create some space for them with your speed because they'll find those plays that not too many players can make."

Certainly, Zajac would like to be part of that playmaking scheme this season after producing just seven goals and 20 points in the shortened 48-game regular-season in 2012-13. He's about to begin the first year of a new eight-year deal worth $46 million, so the motivation is there to begin the season strong.

"As a team we played well but just couldn't score goals, and that was throughout the lineup, but it's hard to say, I felt like I played good most of the season but that happens," he said. "You control what you can control. I felt I improved on some things; my faceoffs were better, but there's still a lot to work on.

"I know what I have to do to be successful and what the coaches expect in me, so I have to worry about that and do what I do best … that's play both ends of the ice and make sure I'm accountable and contribute offensively."

Two seasons ago, Zajac was sidelined by injury for over half the season yet the team persevered to not only qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs but reach the Final before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. He acknowledged that the injury he sustained did not limit him last season.

"The injury had nothing to do with it," he said. "Obviously it wasn't statistically the season I wanted, but I felt good on the ice and I think I improved in some areas. I had another full summer to work on things. Last season is in the past and I'm just excited to work on this year and to get going."

The team needs the Winnipeg native to regain his form from 2008-09 and 2009-10 when he posted at least 20 goals and 60-plus points in each of those seasons. One area that DeBoer needn't concern himself with is Zajac's ability on faceoffs. He has ranked among the top two players on the team in faceoff winning percentage in five of the last six seasons -- the only time he didn't place was his injury-plagued 2011-12 campaign.

Zajac, who led the team with a 57.4 faceoff winning percentage last year, likes the look of this year's team. Adjusting to the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk, who announced his NHL retirement in July, will be tough, but Zajac is confident the Devils will get the job done.

"When you lose a guy like that, it's disappointing just because of how dynamic he was and the type of player he was," Zajac said. "There aren't too many players like that in the NHL. But this organization has always been about winning as a team. I don't think it's going to fall on one or two guys this year, it's going to fall on four lines, six defenders; we'll roll lines and wear teams down. That's what we've always been about and I don't see it changing this year."

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