Being a first-round draft pick, like Pavel Zacha was in New Jersey, can be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, that kind of draft status usually gives a player earlier and longer opportunities to prove what he can or can’t do. On the other, it can cloud the thinking of the fanbase – and perhaps even the team’s management – with too-lofty expectations, especially when the player has been taken with the sixth overall pick, as Zacha was by the Devils in 2015. For the team that drafted the player expecting that it was getting an explosive offensive player, those expectations can blind it to a player’s less sexy attributes, even if they contribute to winning hockey games.

Zacha is fully appreciative of the advantageous aspects of being a first-rounder, which allowed him to gain NHL experience as a teenager. And he wouldn’t change that part of his journey. But he admits that leaving the team that drafted him and had such high hopes for him has lightened the load on his shoulders.

“I feel when you get drafted by a team, where you get drafted is always going to go on with you,” said Zacha. “I feel like once I got traded here, it’s not really about that. People don’t really say, ‘Oh, he was the sixth overall pick.’ I feel like it has lifted some pressure. When you get to a new team, all that is behind you, especially at a certain age. It’s six, seven years later. Yeah, that was something that was talked a lot in the media back in Jersey, even the last year. It is nice that that’s not the case here as much.”

The 25-year-old Zacha, obtained for 31-year-old Erik Haula, is coming off a two-assist performance in a 4-1 win over Philadelphia, including one that came off a third-period puck battle with the Flyers’ Ivan Provorov. That battle led to a tangible result on the scoresheet for Zacha, but he’s been making a lot of winning plays that don’t always show up there. His bottom line stats don’t jump off the page – he has three goals and eight assists in 17 games – but he feels that the unheralded parts of his game are more appreciated with the Bruins.

“That’s a big thing here that I noticed, the energy that the guys give me for, like, backchecking or winning the battles, just on the bench how they’re talking to me, saying, ‘Great shift,’” said Zacha. “All that stuff from management to players is something I appreciate a lot, when you make a little play in the neutral zone, people tell you about it, especially the players, who you really want to hear it from. They appreciate you doing that hard work and it’s really nice. It helps you get your confidence, even if you don’t have a goal or two in certain games. It keeps you in the game.”


The Bruins have a few first-rounders who reached their potential after leaving their original team. Taylor Hall was picked first overall by Edmonton in 2010, but it wasn’t until he was traded to New Jersey that he won the Hart Trophy. Nick Foligno was taken 28th overall by Ottawa, but he became a captain and a true impact player after he was traded to Columbus.

Coach Jim Montgomery believes a move can be vital for some players.

“You see it happen over and over,” said Montgomery. “Florida has the (Sam) Bennett kid (drafted fourth overall in 2014). That’s the perfect example of it happening. Couldn’t find his way in Calgary, gets to Florida. There’s less pressure, you become a complementary player, and you really excel and you become who you should be in the NHL.

“I think that’s happening to Pavel. I don’t know where we’d be without him, to be honest, because I use him in every position, I use him in every situation, and he just keeps getting better and better. That’s the exciting part of it. How good can he be? I think he has a couple more levels in him. I don’t know if we’re going to see it throughout this year, but it’s going to continue to grow throughout his time here being a Bruin.”

Montgomery has conceded that Zacha’s hockey sense is better than he expected. One thing he would like him to do more is shoot the puck.

“He has a lethal shot, and he’s a pass-first mindset. I’d like him to become more 50-50,” said Montgomery.


Shooting more, in fact, was a focus for Zacha in the offseason, but he admitted his old habits are a little harder to break when he’s been playing with some of the players he’s gotten to play with here.

Said Zacha: “I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what’s the best play on the ice.”

But as Zacha figures that part of his game out, he’s still helping the Bruins win games.

SWAYMAN READY FOR ACTION: Montgomery said he’s leaning toward giving Jeremy Swayman the start on Saturday against the Blackhawks. It would be his first game action since suffering a knee injury in Pittsburgh on Nov. 1.

Patrice Bergeron and Linus Ullmark were given maintenance days Friday, while Jakub Zboril missed practice because of illness.

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