While Ilya Kovalchuk has finally started to heat up, his centerman, Travis Zajac, continues to struggle with putting points up on the board. Zajac, who hasn’t registered a point since Jan. 31, admits that it can bother you, but is trying not to get bogged down since the team is winning.
Coach Pete DeBoer maintains that Zajac is “playing great” and insists he isn’t concerned about his offensive numbers.
Neither is Zajac.
“You’d like things to be going better offensively but we’re winning and I feel like I’m playing well,” Zajac said. “Like I said, the chances are there. It’s going to come. You can’t dwell on anything and let it get to you this early in the season. There is going to be a time when it’s going to happen and things will turn.”
Corey GriffinI tend to agree with Zajac and DeBoer here. He’s not playing poorly and is doing a lot of things in his own end and — like they say — the Devils are winning. Yes, his linemate has begun to heat up with five points over the last three games, but four of those points have come on special teams. I do think, however, that the drought has him pressing just a bit when he gets his chance. In each of the last three games, he’s missed on near-goals, including hitting the post when he had an open side of the net. Eventually — it will come. It has to when you’re playing on line with a preeminent talent like Ilya Kovalchuk.
The key, I think, is what people’s expectations are of Zajac after he signed his eight-year, mega-money contract extension before the season. I wrote at the time that the big problem would be whether people view him as trying to reach that “elite” level, which I don’t think he can. That’s not saying he’s not an excellent two-way player who can register 70 to 75 points in a full season, but I don’t think anyone would view him on the level of Sid, Geno or Stamkos. Does his current contract make people think that he should reach that level? I don’t know. One the new contract goes into effect, his annual cap hit will be $5.75 million, which doesn’t sound elite, but will be on the lower end of high-end contracts under the new CBA. So the question becomes, what do you expect of him? Do you expect 35-goal seasons? Do you expect 80 points? His career highs in those categories are 25 goals and 67 points, both during the 2009-10 season. Is it fair to expect a jump from that? Maybe, but how much higher do you want him to go?
My contention is that Zajac’s value comes in the form of his overall game. He’s a strong centerman, a good playmaker with a good enough finishing touch and he is an strong player in his own end. He’s also a valuable voice in the Devils’ locker room and likely will spent all if not most of his career as a Devil. Eventually he will start to score. He has to. But for now, just enjoy the overall package that is Travis Zajac because not a lot of teams have guys like him.