Since being drafted 20th overall in 2004 by the New Jersey Devils, Travis Zajac has become one of the cores of the franchise.
Over his six-year career, Zajac has averaged 18 goals and 32 assists and has emerged as the team's best option at the center position. However, Zajac was limited to 15 games last season due to an Achilles injury before returning to the team for its deep playoff run.
Between the regular season and playoffs, Zajac scored nine goals and recorded 11 assists in a total of 39 games, and was one of the main reasons why the Devils made a run at the Stanley Cup in 2012. This year, with a healthy Zajac back in the lineup, New Jersey may have found its best option to replace Zach Parise in the scoring column.
Last season, Parise scored 31 goals and finished the year with 69 total points. During the 2009-10 season, Zajac recorded 25 goals and finished with 67 points.
Many of the Devils, including Zajac, saw a decrease in scoring due to a new offensive scheme under John MacLean in 2010-11, and he was unable to capitalize with the new Peter DeBoer offense after suffering his leg injury in the offseason.
While Zajac may not be the 30-goal scorer the Devils lost with Parise, he will certainly be the consistent forward New Jersey will need on its top line. Before his injury and the meltdown in 2010-11, Zajac was seeing consistent increases in both goals scored and assists on the top line.
He also will likely be the team's best faceoff man at center, something the Devils need drastic improvement in after ranking 29th in the league. Zajac won 54.8 percent of his faceoffs during the 2012 NHL playoffs, six percent higher than Adam Henrique and 10 percent higher than Patrik Elias during the regular season.
Lastly, Zajac appeared in 490 of 492 career games before the 2011-12 season, making him a valuable asset to the organization going into the 2012-13 season. Now that the team has lost Parise, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Petr Sykora to free agency, the Devils will need Zajac to play another complete season with former reserve players like Mattias Tedenby, Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson taking on starting roles.
Overall, with a healthy Travis Zajac in the lineup, the New Jersey Devils have a chance to compete for a playoff spot.
Many people believe the Devils' dreams of a Stanley Cup ended when Parise left for Minnesota, but if Zajac can play to the highest level in 2012-13, there is a chance this team could see the magic it saw last year.