Pavel Zacha is from Brno, Czech Republic, but he is coming home to Boston.
The 25-year-old forward, acquired by the Bruins from New Jersey on Wednesday in a straight-up swap for Erik Haula, has trained in the area for several summers. His fiancée is from here. He owns a home here. He has become friends with a slew of fellow NHLers who live here. He rarely dines alone.
“In Czech, you have like one, two, three guys in a city,” he said. “Here, there’s 10-15 guys you can train with, play, and play some golf in the summer. It’s such a big sports town. Everyone talks about hockey and stuff. It’s cool to be around it in the summer.”
Zacha also goes way back with fellow Brno boy Jakub Zboril, who was the 13th pick in the same 2015 draft that saw Zacha go sixth overall. Zacha He was David Pastrnak’s linemate on Czechia’s national teams. He was teammates with Taylor Hall with the Devils (2016-19), including the latter’s 2017-18 MVP season.
If familiarity breeds comfort rather than contempt, Zacha could have a productive stay in Boston.
“I’m excited to see everyone at camp,” said the 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound Zacha, who posted a career-high 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) last season, after scoring a personal-best 17 goals in 50 games the season before. “It’s going to be a really competitive team … I’m just ready to come here and do my best to help the team in any way I can.”
One player Zacha is looking forward to meeting: Patrice Bergeron, who called him after the trade.
“Growing up being a centerman, he was the guy I was looking up to,” Zacha said. “Really great two-way center. Getting a call from him, how nice he was and welcoming and telling me that he’s going to meet me at camp and he’s excited to talk to me. That’s something from a captain and leader to hear. I’m just excited to meet him in person and talk to him.”
No matter what the still-unsigned Bergeron announces in the coming days, Zacha won’t be wearing the No. 37 he sported in New Jersey.
“It’s hard,” said Zacha, who wore No. 14 internationally and for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, and No. 97 for his Czech team (Bili Tygri Liberec). “I was looking at the numbers. There’s a lot of numbers taken. I’m not very big on numbers.
“No. 37 was given to me in Jersey the first day of training camp. I never wore 37 before. Guess I’m not going to do it here.”
Zacha, a restricted free agent, still must work out a contract with the Bruins. Ideally for both sides, this negotiation is smoother than the last time around.
Amid reports in September 2019 that the 22-year-old Zacha might defect to the KHL, then-Devils GM Ray Shero cracked that he didn’t care if Zacha signed with a Russian team, or the Brampton Beast of the ECHL. Shero told the Associated Press that Zacha’s agent, Patrik Stefan, raised the possibility of a KHL move.
Zacha re-signed for three years and $6.75 million. He is now represented by Darren Ferris, whose clients include Hall and Jack Studnicka. Zacha is arbitration-eligible and likely to get a raise on his most recent deal ($2.25 million per season).
Zacha’s interest in Boston was piqued in 2017, when two teammates in New Jersey, Brian Boyle and the late Jimmy Hayes, invited him to train in Foxborough. Zacha’s girlfriend — now his fiancée — lived in Needham.
“I figured, ‘OK, let’s make a summer here.’ It worked out really well,” Zacha said. “I’ve trained here every summer since then. I really like it. I’ve met a lot of people. It’s a big hockey town. You have a chance to skate and train with a lot of good hockey players.”
Zacha, who trained at Edge Performance Systems in Foxborough and skated with fellow local pros at Thayer Academy in Braintree, plans to settle into the home he bought last summer. He’ll definitely have Zboril over to hang out.
“I basically grew up with [him],” Zacha said. “I’ve known him since I was 4 years old. We were like best friends growing up. We played together until we were 13, and then [on] national teams. He texted me right away. It’s funny how it played out for us — after 15 years, getting back to playing together is going to be a lot of fun.”
Where Zacha ultimately fits with the Bruins depends on where negotiations with Bergeron and David Krejci land, and what the left wing depth chart looks like as Brad Marchand recovers from double hip surgery. Zacha profiles as a middle-six center.
On the Devils’ power play, Zacha played mainly on the strong side (left circle, or Pastrnak’s office) and in the middle (the bumper spot, held down by Bergeron). Coach Jim Montgomery could play Zacha on the second unit, or slot him on Marchand’s spot along the right wall.
At even strength, maybe Zacha will be Pastrnak’s linemate once again.
“He was always very skilled,” Zacha said of Pastrnak, his national squad teammate from 2011-16. “Really good player. Also a great guy off the ice, as everyone knows here. I always believed in him, that he was going to be good. Then he went to Sweden for a couple years, I saw the transition, how much that helped him make the Bruins. I know he was a little bit in Providence, too.
“It’s great to see, when you have countrymen from Czech Republic, you don’t have that many players who make the NHL. To have such a good goal-scorer and player in the league, it’s great. You can tell your friends you played with Pasta.”