Pavel Zacha looking forward to his ‘shot’ on Bergeron line
For a team featuring familiar faces again in 2022-23, the Boston Bruins embarked on a summer of significant transactions.
Of course, there’s the coaching change with Jim Montgomery replacing the popular Bruce Cassidy. And surely, the Bruins will need some time adjusting to Montgomery’s playing style and philosophy.
With little salary cap space, Don Sweeney managed to acquire an external option. On the first day of free agency, Boston’s embattled GM acquired Pavel Zacha from New Jersey in exchange for Erik Haula.
Between Zacha’s acquisition and new contract (a one-year deal), re-signing captain Patrice Bergeron, adding Montgomery behind the bench and bringing back David Krejci for a second go-around, the Bruins have a decent mix of new and returning players heading into a pivotal campaign. But they’ll have their hands full to start the year as Brad Marchand (hips), Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) and Matt Grzelcyk (shoulder) heal from their respective off-season surgeries.
The trio of injuries is hardly an ideal situation for a team with championship aspirations like the Bruins, whose window keeps shrinking with each disappointing postseason elimination since their bitter Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. But it also provides an opportunity for newcomers like Zacha, who will likely begin the year on the top line with Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk.
“Yes, you’re missing some key players,” Bergeron said following Monday’s captains’ practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “But I think it’s a good opportunity for other guys to step up and not only find their game, but also their place and spot in the locker room, in the lineup, and to step on the ice and become better players and eventually become a better team down the line when Charlie and Matt and Brad are back in full.”
Whether Zacha stays with Bergeron once Marchand returns is anyone’s guess. He could shift to DeBrusk’s spot as the No. 1 right wing depending on the chemistry and on-ice results with Bergeron and DeBrusk. Or he could fit into a middle-six role at center or wing.
Given Bergeron’s initial impression of Zacha, the Bruins may have themselves a suitable option to alleviate some of the early-season concerns.
“He’s a great player; he’s a very smart player. It’s something I knew before he came in. He plays the game the right way; he’s always well positioned,” Bergeron said of Zacha. “I think he’s got a great shot. Even from talking to him, I think he wants to have a shoot-first mentality than what he’s had in the past. I think he’s a great player, and I’m excited to get to know him on and off the ice. He’s a young guy who’s got a lot of potential and can become a great player in this league.”
Indeed, Zacha will get his shot to showcase his potential to Bergeron and his new teammates. And he echoed Bergeron’s thoughts on the first impression front.
“Seeing him with the motivation he had going into the season, and the work he put in this summer shows how great of a player he is,” Zacha said.
“I think he pushes everyone around him to work a little bit harder, and that’s something that good captains do.”
Unlike his rough statistical Devils’ tenure (179 points in 386 career games), Zacha enters a more stable situation in Boston. He’ll have a preseason to acclimate himself to his new role amid the tight-knit Bruins’ culture.
And Zacha hopes the shoot-first mentally translates into better results upon skating with the Selke king in Bergeron.
“When I’m playing with players like that, I’m going to have more opportunities to be in a shooting situation to shoot more pucks,” Zacha said. “It’s something he wants me to do, too. And I’ll focus more on that going forward now from practicing and playing with him. I’m excited for that.”