-- After suffering through the most tumultuous season of his career, Zach Parise
is having fun again.
And he expects it to remain that way despite the pending NHL trading deadline and free agency period.
"The NHL trade deadline means nothing for me … I don't expect anything to change," Parise told NHL.com. "There's no different approach by me for anything. I like how we're playing right now and how we're, hopefully, going to finish."
There's no doubt Parise's future in New Jersey has been on the minds of everyone within the organization this season, as well as around the League. The unrestricted free-agent-to-be has continually said all the right things during what has to be an uncertain off-ice period in his career.
"I would say [free agency] was on my mind earlier in the season and now, as best I can, have forgotten about it," Parise said. "Once I did that, I've been playing better. It can weigh on you, and honestly, it's not just lip service. I try as hard as can to not even think about it and just play. I found once I do that, I play better."
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He's right. One season removed from playing only 13 games because of knee surgery, Parise has regained his offensive touch for the Devils with 20 goals and 47 points in 53 games. He's currently riding a six-game point-scoring streak, during which he's produced 5 goals and 3 assists.
When he agreed to a one-year, $6 million deal to avoid arbitration before the season started, he did so with honest intentions of wanting to know what the organizational blueprint would be down the road. Was the team going to regroup and turn things around after failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons?
"I think, of late, we're playing really well," Parise said. "Especially since we got [Alexei] Ponikarovsky and [Steve] Bernier and added them to our third line. Those guys have made a difference in our offensive zone time with wearing down defensemen. That made a huge difference with our depth up front, so we're finding ways to score right now. Everyone is smiling, so it's always easier when you're winning."
The fact first-year coach Peter DeBoer
has been able to devise a system that the players have certainly bought into has also provided hope in Parise's eyes.
"I think we're reacting well," he said. "We'll have slip-ups here and there, but the best thing about it was that [DeBoer] was patient with us at the beginning of the season.
"We've been playing a certain way for years and for someone to come in and change things, it's tough. As players, we've been doing the same thing for so long, but he wanted to change things and I think all the players, from day one, were right on board. He was patient while we were learning, but I think it's all coming together well."
The bottom line is Parise is steadfast in his thinking that his ultimate decision will be based on which situation gives him the best chance moving forward in his NHL career.
"I don't think there's any question he's enjoyed playing in New Jersey," said former teammate Jamie Langenbrunner
, in town with the St. Louis Blues
to face the Devils on Thursday. "He's been here his whole career, and I'm sure he doesn't want that to change. I think he enjoys what's going on right now, so he's focused on that."
Additionally, Parise is feeling the best he has since 2009-10, when he struck for 38 goals and 82 points in 81 games.
"It did take about 20 to 25 games to kind of get back into the swing of things and to feel good, but I feel great now … I really do," Parise said. "I feel in shape and my knee feels great. I feel the game has definitely slowed down for me again, and that was a struggle in the beginning of the year. Overall, I'm happy where [my game] is right now."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale