Saturday, June 6, 2015

2015 NHL Draft Preview: Pavel Zacha Write-Up

As the week continues with the NHL Draft Combine going on in Buffalo, I am here with another write-up. Below are the links to my previous player write-ups:

-Mathew Barzal
-Denis Guryanov
-Rasmus Andersson
-Mikko Rantanen

I can’t thank you enough for reading my posts so far. I am really enjoying writing them! I am hoping you get a taste of how much I enjoy writing about hockey and prospects. With the newest report, we take a look at:

Pavel Zacha
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 215 lbs
Position: C (sometimes LW)
Shoots: Left
Team (League): Sarnia Sting (OHL)
ISS rank: 10
CSS rank: 8 (NA Skaters)
FC rank: 15
THN rank: 7
Statline for 2014-2015 Season:  37 GP, 16G 18A 34P 56PIM, +5, 0.92 Points/Game

Playing in his first season of hockey in North America, Pavel Zacha showed some major signs of offensive promise, but his game raised some questions for scouts. Let’s break down Zacha’s game play and experience. Zacha only played 37 games this past season as a result of injuries, two suspensions, and international tournaments, like the World Junior Championships. I feel like this large number of gaps in the schedule never allowed Zacha to get into a grove and further develop his game. He also did not play in the CHL Top Prospects Game because of an injury sustained prior to it. I wouldn’t say that he is “injury prone”. He’s just had some bad luck including missing 3-5 weeks with an upper-body injury. As one article put it best, he just can’t seem to get a break. So do scouts believe they want to risk a high pick on a player who they have not been able to see play much this season? (I’d say yes…also scouts have been following these prospects for at least a few years now)

Zacha is a strong and fast power-forward with an elite shot. It really is incredible. It might even best the best wrist shot out of the entire draft class…might be. This is just such a good draft! He drives to the net, and drives to the slot for a better shooting angle. He’s able to use his big body to position himself and not get knocked around, and he’s able to use his blazing speed to gain the offensive zone while still holding possession of the puck (usually with the puck on his backhand). In fact, his speed is what makes his a threat defensively, with his ability to explode from the defensive zone to the transitional game.

Defensively, Pavel Zacha plays a very physical, hard-hitting, and punishing game. As mentioned above, his physical play can get a little reckless, and he has had two suspensions for his hits this season. I do not believe he is a dirty player by any means. He just needs to better control his instincts to demolish anything that moves in his own zone. An area of improvement for Zacha would be his supporting play when not with the puck. I mean this in the sense of defensive routes taken to support defensemen, proper positioning in the offensive zone when not possessing the puck to keep the attack alive, and an overall not getting caught flat-footed in either end of the ice.

Another issue of Zacha’s play is his sometimes inconsistent in that he is caught coasting a bit, but thankfully I don’t view any of these areas of improvement as detrimental to his overall value as an offensive talent. I don’t view Zacha as a poor defensive player by any means either. I feel it’s important to give him some slack in his first year playing in the smaller rink of North America. I really liked his defensive effort as well. He has a very high hockey IQ, and once he understands his better defensive positioning, he will be a significantly better player in his own end. His physicality and hard-hitting is quite fun to watch. The Hockey Writers calls Zacha the hardest hitting player of this draft class.

Looking more at his offensive game, Zacha brings a shoot-first mentality and a rocket of not only his potential top-of-the-class wrist shot, but his phenomenal one-timer shot. Like many young, highly talented players, Zacha has a bit trouble using his linemates. I do believe these are all issues that can be taken care of through proper coaching. If Zacha does decide to pass and not shoot, he is able to make a near perfect tape-to-tape pass. If he decides to do neither, then he will drive to the net with his explosive acceleration skating and high top-end speed. He will also deke and use his long reach to protect the puck (with the power move) to keep the puck to himself.

Zacha does have experience playing in a professional league. Before he came over to North America, after being selected 1st overall in the CHL Import Draft, Zacha played 38 games for the Czech Extraliga, the highest professional league in the Czech Republic. In that time, he scored 8 points (4G 4A). Internationally, Pavel Zacha has represented Team Czech Republic for many tournaments, but most notably (and most recently) the World Junior Championships, played in Canada, and the IIHF U18 World Championships, played in Switzerland. Despite being one of the younger players on the team (Zacha turned 18 in April) and playing with players up to two years older than him (which isn’t much different from playing in the OHL), Zacha scored 2 points (1G 1A) in 5 games. That lone goal was the game-winning goal against Team Russia. At the IIHF U18 championships, Zacha scored 5 goals in 5 games for the Czechs. This was tied for team lead in points, and led the team in goals. In fact, this total was tied for 3rd best in the tournament for goals scored (about 7 players in that tied top 3 though).

Pavel Zacha is one of the more intriguing forward prospects. He’s been projected to go anywhere from 6th overall to 17th overall. His tenacious fore-checking game, size, and strong physical play make him an almost lock for a Bottom-6 role in the NHL at the very, very least. The questions surrounding his development include his ability to find a groove offensively, continue to adjust his defensive game, not take as many unnecessary penalties, and ensure that he does not get caught flat-footed. I’d say that the biggest question regarding Zacha’s game is whether or not it will be better suited at the NHL-level as a center or a left winger. I believe Zacha will be a center progressing forward if he can improve his back-checking, face-offs, and how well he reads and controls the ice. He will already be a good player for the top unit of a team's Power play, mainly due to his shot. He played on Sarnia's top Power play unit.

Despite the concerns listed, I do feel that Zacha will have a bit year next season. He is actually one of the more NHL-ready prospects in this draft. That being said, I’d like to see him play in the OHL next season to help improve his confidence and offensive consistency. The combination of skill, size, strength, speed, and IQ is too tantalizing for a team to pass up on. If Zacha is able to properly develop his skills and everything I have mentioned above, I believe he has a legitimate shot to not only be an absolute steal of a pick, but to also potentially be the third best center of this draft class.

I very much look forward to following Zacha’s career wherever he ends up, and I hope to see him in Sarnia again next season. He is an extremely promising prospect.

I hope you enjoyed my preview of Pavel Zacha. The NHL Entry Draft is now only 20 days away! I will post more prospect/player previews as the days pass.

If you have any feedback, suggestions, or players you’d like to see my write about, please let me know!

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@DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates.

Thanks for reading!

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