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Why the Canucks like Pavel Zacha, and what the Devils might be looking for in return

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Photo credit:© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
9 months ago
As usual, the Vancouver Canucks fanbase and mediasphere spent a lot of time talking about a person named “Pavel” this past week.
And for once, it wasn’t Bure.
Instead, the name on everyone’s lips seems to be Pavel Zacha, the 24-year-old New Jersey Devils forward. Elliotte Friedman and others have specifically linked the Canucks to Zacha, stating that they’re “interested” in him — and, at first blush, that’s kind of surprising.

Why might the Canucks want Pavel Zacha?

Zacha does fit that 20-to-25-year-old mould that POHO Jim Rutherford described as the Canucks’ target area in upcoming trades. The sixth overall draft pick in 2015 has played all three forward positions over his six seasons with the Devils thus far, and he does bring plenty of talent to the table.
ZachaGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2021/224612112317:0653.5%
Career3626610016615:4348.1%
Though his production is a bit down this year, Zacha has scored at a 40-50-point pace for the last three years running. He’s big (6’3”, 210lbs) and knows how to use that frame effectively, often going to the dangerous areas on the ice to score. He’s a solid playmaker, but his shot is what earns him the majority of his points.
Zacha is also a two-way talent, and has had surprisingly good analytical returns this season while playing against better-than-league-average opposition. But don’t mistake him as a shutdown center, as most of his 2021/22 minutes have come on Nico Hischier’s wing.
Really, if the Canucks really are looking at Zacha, they’re looking at him as a top-six scoring option that might also be able to fit in as a 3C — basically, what they were hoping for, and didn’t get, in Jason Dickinson.

What might New Jersey want in return?

As for the New Jersey side of the equation, that’s a little bit easier to figure out. The Devils are a franchise in transition. They put up a good fight early on in 2021/22, but they’ve since slipped all the way down to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. All of their young pieces are in place, however, so they’ll be looking to challenge for the playoffs as soon as next season — and for a good long while thereafter.
Looking at the Devils’ current roster composition, it’s not difficult to see where they’re thin, or where they believe the Canucks might be able to help them out.
New Jersey is in possession of an excellent young 1-2-3 punch down the middle. Jack Hughes, Dawson Mercer, and Hischier are a set of pivots that can grow into being the core of a contender.
The New Jersey blueline is also coming along, buoyed by young talents like Jonas Seigenthaler and Ty Smith, the incoming Luke Hughes, and reliable vets like Damon Severson and Ryan Graves.
Where the Devils need help is at RHD (where the Canucks have less-than-nothing to offer), in net (where the Canucks have very little to offer outside of Thatcher Demko, who is untouchable), and at the wing (where the Canucks have a lot to offer.)
So, if the Canucks and Devils are really talking a trade involving Pavel Zacha, it’s probably for someone that the Devils see as an upgrade on the wing. Right now, aside from Zacha, they’ve got Tomas Tatar, Jesper Bratt, and not much else. They’ll need to be better by 2022/23.
Below, we’ll take a look at what the Canucks can offer up to fix that issue — and whether each piece constitutes a realistic return for Zacha or not.

Hammering out potential trade pieces

JT Miller
Obviously, the best winger that the Canucks can offer the Devils is Miller, even if he’s sometimes a center. But the value of Miller is so far over and above Zacha, that the two don’t really belong in the same trade discussion. If Zacha’s coming back in a Miller transaction, it’s as the third-best piece, and certainly not as the centrepiece.
There’s also a real question of whether or not Miller — a UFA after next season — is much of a fit for the Devils. They’d be renting him out for the end of one regular season and then one hopeful playoff run in 2023, after which he’d be unlikely to re-sign.
We can safely move on from this one.
Brock Boeser
If we’re talking long-term pieces that the Devils might be interested in, Boeser is probably at the top of the list. The pending RFA would do nicely with playmaking pivots like Hughes or Hischier, and New Jersey would have the ability and the cap space to sign him for a lengthy extension at whatever price he was seeking.
Again, however, the value is an issue. Trading Boeser for Zacha constitutes a massive downgrade right now, and probably moving forward, too, with Zacha being a scant 40 days younger than Boeser. Zacha plus a high-value future asset might get the conversation started, but that future asset would have to be premium — think this year’s New Jersey first rounder or Alexander Holtz. That’s probably not happening.
Conor Garland
Garland’s is the name that has been specifically linked to Zacha in the rumour market, and from a New Jersey perspective, it makes a lot of sense. Garland is a year older than Zacha, but a much stronger producer, and is already signed for four more years at a very reasonable rate. There has also been plenty of smoke around about the Canucks fielding offers on Garland.
But stop us if you’ve heard this one before: the value is off. Even though he’s been slumping of late, Garland’s career PPG is a fair bit higher than Zacha’s — and even though Garland is significantly smaller, he plays with more fire, grit, and determination than Zacha ever has.
Their value is comparable enough that we can imagine a world in which a Garland-for-Zacha-and-a-premium-prospect transaction makes some sense, but we better be talking Luke Hughes or Shakir Mukhamadullin if that’s the case. Otherwise, no deal.
Nils Höglander
Most Canucks fans don’t want Höglander traded, even if he’s not proven to be a favourite of Bruce Boudreau. But his name has been mentioned in the odd rumour, and he’s obviously someone who would attract a lot of attention if he were ever put on the block.
Production and overall value-wise, Zacha probably weighs in as the more valuable of the two at the moment. Höglander’s high on potential, but Zacha can be counted on to put up a reasonable number of points right now, and probably makes a greater impact on the game on a nightly basis.
Still, the notion of Vancouver trading a 21-year-old for a soon-to-be 25-year-old just doesn’t jive well with Rutherford’s stated goal to get younger and faster. Don’t count on this one happening.
Tanner Pearson
In all honestly, Pearson represents an upgrade on a good portion of the New Jersey wingers, including some that they have situated in their top-six. The Devils could certainly use him over the remaining two-and-a-half years of his contract, and Pearson could feasibly find the same chemistry with Hischier as he has with Bo Horvat.
But Pearson is also 29-years-old, and he’s also at least a little bit overpaid. It wouldn’t be entirely unexpected if the Devils pursued someone like him in the offseason, but they don’t need him right now, and they certainly don’t need to trade Zacha for him.
Tyler Motte
We could definitely see the Devils — and a whole host of other teams — pursuing Motte as a UFA for his strong play in the bottom-six and his perhaps-untapped potential to play higher in the lineup. As of right now, however, he’s a rental, and a non-playoff team like the Devils has no business trading for him.
Jason Dickinson
Okay, here’s a potential fit. Dickinson has been a disaster in Vancouver, but prior to his arrival there, he showed an ability to play as both a top-six scoring winger and an effective shutdown center. Looking to bolster their wings and/or take some defensive pressure off of Hischier, the Devils could definitely be interested in Dickinson. He’s only a year-and-change older than Zacha, to boot.
Obviously, Zacha’s much greater production, along with his size and draft history, made him the more valuable of the two coming into this season, and that hasn’t changed. But the two are close enough to in the same ballpark that it might only take a solid future asset or two to get the deal done.
Whether or not the Canucks would be willing to give up any of their limited future assets, on the other hand, is a much trickier question to answer. Would they give up Dickinson and a second round pick for Zacha?
Jaroslav Halak
Even though Halak is an expiring UFA and thus a rental, there’s still a slight possibility that the Devils might be interested in him. Currently, they have two goalies on the LTIR and are down to Nico Daws and Jon Gillies in the crease. Halak could fill in for the rest of the year, and the Devils could value the stability he’d offer to the rest of their young roster. But if he were to be involved in a Zacha deal, it would be as sweetener, not as a primary focus.
If you haven’t already, we’ve got the latest on the Halak situation up right now, which you can read by clicking here.
Spencer Martin
If only Martin were still an RFA after this season, he might actually offer some long-term value to the Devils. But he’s a UFA. If New Jersey is interested, they can just pursue him in the summer like everyone else.
Mike DiPietro/Arturs Silovs
Unfortunately, the Canucks’ top two goaltending prospects have not performed exceptionally well in 2021/22 after taking most of the prior season off. Neither looks ready for NHL action anytime soon, and are thus not particularly useful to the New Jersey Devils.
Picks and Prospects
The Devils aren’t far enough out of their rebuild to turn down offers of picks and prospects. Then again, the same could be said of the Canucks. Rutherford has let it be known that his short-term franchise vision involves accruing more future assets, not trading them out.
It’s still possible that the Canucks might deal a pick or prospect if the trade makes sense, but it’s hard to imagine that Zacha is the player who convinces them to do it.

Conclusions

Honestly? There’s not a lot to go on here. Maybe the Devils are interested in someone like Dickinson, but it’s just as likely that they’re not. If anything, the Canucks’ rumoured interest in Zacha reads like part of a much bigger deal — perhaps one involving Boeser or Garland.
If that’s the case, however, then Vancouver fans should hope that whatever comes of it isn’t referred to as the “Pavel Zacha trade.” As a centrepiece offer, he’s just not that appealing. As the third piece in a larger trade, however, he might just be a steal.
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