Pavel Zacha trade by Bruins has been one of NHL’s best offseason moves

Bruins’ trade for Zacha has been one of NHL’s best offseason moves so far originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins weren’t able to make a huge splash in NHL free agency last July because they had limited salary cap space and needed to have enough room to sign Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

With limited options to improve the roster, general manager Don Sweeney looked to the trade market and made a move that, through the first 27 games of the 2022-23 season, has paid huge dividends.

Sweeney dealt veteran center Erik Haula to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for versatile forward Pavel Zacha.

How DeBrusk felt about scoring game-winner vs. Vegas

Zacha is a former No. 6 overall draft pick who didn’t meet expectations over his first seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils. He’s taken his performance to a higher level in Boston.

One of the areas the Bruins had to be much better in was 5-on-5 scoring. They finished 15th in 5-on-5 goals scored last season and struggled at even strength against the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Boston ranks 10th in 5-on-5 goals so far this season, and Zacha ranks third on the B’s in 5-on-5 scoring with 13 points. His 12 5-on-5 assists are three more than any other Bruins player, which showcases his impressive playmaking ability.

Natural Stat Trick

Zacha is producing 2.17 assists per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, compared to 1.03 last season. He’s scoring 1.09 points per 60 minutes, which is more than double his 0.58 rate with the Devils in 2021-22. Sure, his goal scoring is down a bit from last season, but his ability to create quality scoring chances for teammates has been a huge benefit for this team.

Another strong suit of Zacha’s skill set is his versatility. He’s been effective at left wing, right wing and center. Whenever Bergeron or Krejci don’t play, Zacha comfortably slides into the middle and keeps the offense churning.

Krejci didn’t play in Sunday night’s 3-1 road win over the Vegas Golden Knights, so it was Zacha who played second-line center next to Taylor Hall at left wing and a mix of David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk at right wing. With the score tied 1-1 early in the third period, Zacha made an amazing saucer pass over Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez and onto the stick of DeBrusk, who capitalized for a goal that ended up being the game-winner.

“I always feel trust from coaches when they’re trusting you playing wing or center, important minutes, in lines like this,” Zacha told reporters after beating the Golden Knights. “It’s the trust from the coaches that I feel, and I’ I’m just trying to do my best in every role I get on the team.”

Versatility is important in any team, and Zacha is one of the main drivers of that for the Bruins.

“We’re very fortunate. We’ve got a lot of guys that can play different positions. We’ve got some guys that can play all three (forward spots). That allows you to see who’s going, put those guys together and hopefully things happen, and that did (Saturday night),” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery told reporters after the Vegas win.

Zacha has 17 total points (three goals, 14 assists) in 27 games, putting him on pace for 52 over a full season. His previous career-high for a single season is 36 points, which he set last year.

The Bruins need someone to step up in the short- and long-term at center to help the team transition into the post-Bergeron and post-Krejci era, whenever that time comes. Zacha, who’s just 25 years old, could be a big part of that solution.

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