finally returns to the lineup on Friday, when the Devils host the Dallas Stars.
Zajac, who will be making his season debut, is thrilled to be back. It's already set to be an unforgettable night at Prudential Center, with the Devils retiring Scott Niedermayer's No. 27 in a pregame ceremony.
“I’m definitely excited,” Zajac said. “A little anxious, but I think it’s in a good way. It’s been awhile since I’ve been around the guys in the locker room. It’s been awhile since I was able to pregame nap, too, so it’s definitely exciting.”
Zajac suffered the first significant injury of his career while working out in August, and needed surgery to repair his left Achilles tendon. Following rehab, he began practicing with the team on Dec. 7
“I feel like the game’s a little different than practice,” said Zajac. “A little more speed, a little more physical play, competitiveness. I think that’s the next step from practice and I feel good. I feel mentally and physically fit, and that’s the most important part. It’s exciting and I’m sure I’ll have a lot of adrenaline.”
The Devils’ franchise ironman, Zajac had appeared in 401 straight games before the setback. Zajac did represent Canada at the World Championship, but he hasn't played in an NHL game since April 10.
“The longest I’ve ever been off from hockey,” he said. “It’s both a good thing and a bad thing. I definitely had a break away from the game, and was able to mentally come back in a better mind frame and physically I’m right there.”
He's not the only one that’s excited. Thirty games into the season, coach Peter DeBoer will finally get his first look at one of his top pivots.
“It’s been a long road for him,” said DeBoer. “It’s nice to have him back.”
Zajac centered a line with Mattias Tedenby
and Eric Boulton
at Thursday’s practice. David Clarkson
, normally the third-line right wing, did not skate because of a personal matter.
Zajac recently received some advice from Zach Parise
, who missed much of last season following knee surgery.
“On the plane ride home the other day, he gave me a little tip, just from him coming back last year, he said ‘You’re going to have a lot more time than you think out there,' " Zajac recalled. "I could see that. Even in practice, the first couple of days it felt like I was rushing passes and trying to get the puck off my stick as much as possible. It’s just about staying calm, staying confident and playing within yourself, not trying to do more than you need to.” • Anton Volchenkov
(hand) skated in practice and is expected to play Friday after missing three games.
“He looks good, but again, we’ll see how he feels [Friday] morning,” DeBoer said. Johan Hedberg
is expected to start in net versus the Stars.