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Islanders: Predicting Travis Zajac’s New Role

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 25: Travis Zajac #19 of the New Jersey Devils in action against the Washington Capitals during the first period at Capital One Arena on March 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 25: Travis Zajac #19 of the New Jersey Devils in action against the Washington Capitals during the first period at Capital One Arena on March 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Last night, the New York Islanders made a trade to land both Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils. While Palmieri’s role is a little more obvious, Zajac’s role may have to change from what he’s used to.

For most of his career, he’s been a solid middle-six center, and now at 35, he’s transitioned to one of the better third-line centers in the sport. This season, he has 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) a 45 point pace over a full season.

There’s a slight issue though, the Isles already have JG Pageau who is a phenomenal third-line center. The center depth as is, with Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, JG Pageau, and Casey Cizikas is excellent so would Barry Trotz consider moving Zajac to a wing role?

Middle Six Wing

Honestly, I think this is our most likely scenario. Even before the Islanders lost Anders Lee for the season, it was rumored that they were looking for an upgrade on the third line wing to go with JG Pageau.

In this scenario, the addition of Zajac would keep the likes of Leo Komarov, Ross Johnston, Michael Dal Colle, and Kieffer Bellows out of the lineup. It’s been a rotation of those four and none of them have really taken that role and ran with it.

The word that jumps out to me is consistency. Zajac, even at 35, would add consistency to the forward group. Now, the reason why I said middle-six wing and not necessarily third-line wing is before he’s a righty shot.

Do we really think the Islanders roll two all righty lines with Palmieri – Barzal – Eberle up top and Zajac – Pageau Wahlstrom on line three? Instead, I think there’s a chance he goes on line two:

Palmieri – Barzal – Eberle

Bailey – Nelson – Zajac

Beauvillier – Pageau – Wahlstrom

Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck

Or, if the Islanders would prefer to have the three righties together on line three instead of line one they can go with Mitch’s lineup:

Bailey – Barzal – Eberle

Beauviller – Nelson – Palmieri

Zajac – Pageau – Wahlstrom

Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck

Keeping Him At Center

Maybe Barry Trotz is okay with keeping Travis Zacaj at center. I mean this is a guy who is a career 53.7% in the faceoff dot, it’s entirely possible. I love Pageau on that third line as the center but he’s proven to be extremely versatile.

Maybe Trotz moves his do-it-all forward over to the wing and puts Zajac on L3 instead. The lineup could look like:

Pageau – Barzal – Palmieri

Beauvillier – Nelson – Eberle

Bailey – Zajac – Wahlstrom

Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck

H/T to @zmanisles on the lineup

The center depth swapping Zajac for Pageau would still be excellent and bumping Bailey down to a third-line role is something I can get behind as well. I think what I’m realizing here is there is so many ways that Barry Trotz can do this, and there are legit cases for all of them.

Instead of trying to shoehorn fringe NHL talent like Leo Komarov, Ross Johnston, Michael Dal Colle, and Kieffer Bellows in he has a top-nine that is deep and versatile. The fourth line, as we know, works wonders.

Defining The Role

No matter where Zajac plays, whether it be center or on the wing, he was brought in here for stability. Lou Lamoriello is familiar with him, he did draft him in 2004, and he played a productive 15 years in New Jersey.

He isn’t here to be a savior. Heck, he isn’t even brought in with the expectation that JG Pageau and Kyle Palmieri had. Instead, it just gives the Islanders some regularity in their lineup which would be huge come playoff time.

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Speaking of playoffs, in 57 career playoff games Zajac has 11 goals and 28 points. It’s just another depth scoring option and someone who can take big faceoffs if needed. Don’t sleep on the Zajac part of this trade, he’s going to be solid for this team.

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