One big contract and suddenly Travis Zajac is a big talker.
"I'm just trying to, maybe, take my game to another level," he said after practice Thursday.
For the Devils soft-spoken first-line center, that's akin to guaranteeing the Stanley Cup.
Zajac is unassuming and humble. He refused to single himself out for the team's high hopes or his big postseason last spring, pointing to all the winning teammates surrounding him.
The eight-year, $46 million deal he recently inked was a relief because it has let him focus solely on hockey and not have to worry about one day joining the legion of young Devils stars who left for big paydays.
Zajac, 27, has gotten off to a fast start, with goals in each of the Devils' first two games, both wins, promising production for New Jersey after losing top scorer Zach Parise to Minnesota. The Devils play host to the Capitals Friday night [7 p.m., MSG. WBBR (1130 AM)]
Zajac's strength always has been his all-around play as a two-way pivot, his strength on the penalty kill as much as his ability to set up his linemates and beat opposing goaltenders.
Thus far, in a tiny sample size, he's doing it all at a high level.
"He's always been good defensively, his compete level is always good, the next level for him is a true No. 1 center in the NHL," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "There's probably only a dozen to 15 of those guys. That's the elite level I think that's he's looking to get to, and I don't see any reason he can't get to that group."
Zajac said he is thrilled just playing full time after missing all but 15 regular-season games last winter with a torn Achilles tendon. He enjoyed a breakout postseason, with seven goals and seven assists, during the Devils' run to the Stanley Cup.
Parise's departure to Minnesota has cast more of a light on Zajac, which he has accepted, in his own way.
Devils' Zajac looks to step it up
New York Post | Jan 25