Travis Zajac has had a hard time solidifying himself in the New York Islanders lineup since arriving on Long Island just before the trade deadline.
He has been a healthy scratch three times in 14 games since his arrival and despite getting time on the Islanders’ top-line Zajac only has a goal and an assist. With only a mere three games left on the schedule, the Manitoba-native should see ice time, as staples in the lineup will take a seat in order to be well-rested for what will be a grueling Stanley Cup playoffs run.
“I’m going to take some guys out that are fine,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said prior to Thursday’s game against New Jersey. “Just give them a little rest, a little breather, because we’re going to rely on them through the playoffs. You’ll see that again tonight. I’ll probably do it again the next game and then we’ll see where we are in Boston.”
Travis Zajac will return to the lineup on Thursday night when the Islanders host the New Jersey Devils at the Nassau Coliseum. When the postseason does begin, Zajac will most likely be watching from the press box.
However, that does not mean he cannot help the Islanders reach their ultimate goal.
Zajac’s situation will be somewhat similar to that of Johnny Boychuk’s. Last season, Boychuk took a hit during the Qualifying Series against the Florida Panthers that would ultimately end his career. He did play in two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals, but after tests, his playing days were in fact over.
Although Boychuk could not contribute on the ice this season, he has done all he can to help. Since he had decided not to announce his retirement from the NHL officially, he was found sitting next to Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello on game nights and has regularly strapped on the skates to help coach Trotz at practice.
Whatever the team needed, Boychuk was there to help. That is what Zajac will need to do moving forward.
Travis Zajac’s hockey IQ is why he has been able to play in a top-six role for as long as he had with the Devils. He has played in the NHL for 15 seasons and has surpassed the 1,000 game mark, not something that many players will ever accomplish.
Unfortunately, since joining the Islanders, Zajac has struggled and hasn’t been the only one. Trade-partner Kyle Palmieri and the rest of the team since the deadline. It is hard to judge Zajac or Palmieri after only a small sample size in a new system, but Trotz had to make a decision and figure out his lines before the regular season came to a close.
Just the nature of the beast.
“Production-wise they haven’t done it. Let’s be honest they haven’t quite done it,” Trotz said about Zajac and Palmieri. “They’re playing fine. It’s just there’s no production. That will come. I’m hoping that comes when we need them most and that’s obviously playoffs.”
With team captain Anders Lee falling victim to a torn ACL back in mid-March, the Islanders have not rebounded accordingly. Zajac brings that leadership mentality having worn the “A” in New Jersey for many years and played a significant leadership role in the Devils’ Stanley Cup appearance back in 2012. He had some clutch moments on that run as he kept the Devils alive after he netted the Game 6 winner against the Panthers back in 2012.
When Travis Zajac waived his no-trade clause to join the Islanders, he knew that playing time was no guarantee, but it was the chance to go to a team that could legitimately compete for a Stanley Cup that attracted him.
“I think at this point I wanted a chance to win,” Zajac said following his arrival in New York. “I believe this is the team that has all the aspects of a winner. I want to help them in any way possible.”
Zajac has played in 57 playoff games, and while that may not seem like a lot, that experience can surely help the Islanders right now. New York is back in the playoffs for a third consecutive year, and each time have made it farther and farther. Last season the Tampa Bay Lightning sent them packing after six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Last year’s circumstances were mighty challenging and it won’t be any easier this season given the competitiveness, and talent, just in the East Division alone. Although the Islanders are not a young team on paper, their experience in the postseason is still limited.
Travis Zajac can serve as an extra set of eyes for head coach Barry Trotz and give his take on the game, the opponent, and the task at hand. Given his versatility, Zajac may get an opportunity this postseason and will be ready if called upon.
Over the course of his career and right from the beginning with the Islanders, Zajac has shown he is all about doing what needs to be done for his team to win. Whether he is on the ice or off the ice this postseason, he will undoubtedly be playing an important role for the Islanders come playoff time.
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