Pavel Zacha

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Devils GM doesn’t care if Zacha considers signing with KHL

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero says he is still attempting to sign center Pavel Zacha amid concerns the former first-round draft pick will play in the Kontinental Hockey League this season.

Peppering his comments with profanities, Shero told The Associated Press on Monday that he doesn’t care if Zacha signs with the KHL, a Russian-based pro league, with Brampton, an ECHL team, or anywhere else. Shero says the Devils still retain the restricted free agent’s rights after issuing him a qualifying offer this summer, and he hopes to get a deal completed with training camp opening this week.

Shero says he’s unaware if Zacha has signed with a KHL team, though he adds that possibility was raised by the player’s agent during a recent conversation.

Shero says playing in the KHL is ”not the advice I would give him,” and adds ”it’s a long way back to the NHL” if Zacha goes that route.

Zacha’s agent, Patrik Stefan, did not immediately respond to several messages from the AP seeking comment.

Shero called Zacha an ”important player” entering a key year in his development. He spoke while watching the Devils’ third and final game at the Sabres’ prospects tournament in Buffalo.

The 22-year-old Zacha is from the Czech Republic and had a career-best 13 goals in 61 games last season. Overall, he has 29 goals and 47 assists for 76 points in 201 career NHL games.

Devils won’t offer tryouts to Bernier, Gomez

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Scott Gomez was signed by the New Jersey Devils after participating in training camp on a tryout basis last year and it worked out well with him scoring seven goals and 34 points in 58 contests on a team that struggled offensively. History will not repeat itself.

Devils GM Ray Shero confirmed that Gomez, who remains unsigned, won’t receive a professional tryout offer. Steve Bernier, who tied his career-high with 32 points in 67 games last season, won’t be presented with an opportunity to make the team either.

“That’s not a direction I’m looking to go at this point. I think we made a decision back before the draft to let (Bernier) go to free agency and let him go in a different direction,” Shero told NJ Advance Media. “Obviously they haven’t signed anywhere yet, but I’m sure they are working on some things themselves.

“With Scott, as I’ve said before, it really wasn’t so much about him but more us going in a different direction.”

After finishing in the bottom-five of scoring for three consecutive seasons, Shero wants to focus on giving younger players an opportunity. He’s also moved the team’s rebuild forward by selecting Pavel Zacha with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Shero hasn’t ruled out the possibility of offering tryouts to other players, but it seems the march forward hasn’t left any room for Gomez or Bernier’s return.

Under Pressure: Ray Shero

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Despite being in just his first season as general manager of the New Jersey Devils, Ray Shero is under pressure to address the concerns currently facing the organization.

New Jersey has missed the playoffs in three straight seasons and in four of the last five years.

One of the reasons for the lack of success in New Jersey has been the team’s inability to score goals. The Devils finished the 2014-15 season 28th overall in goals-for per-game with 2.15. The club has not had a 30-goal scorer since the 2011-12 season when Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and David Clarkson each reached the 30-goal plateau.

“Obviously the last three years haven’t been what was expected,” Shero told NJ Advance Media last month. “We’ve got work to do.”

Not helping matters is ESPN’s latest prospects rankings, which has New Jersey’s prospects ranked 26th in the league ahead of just the L.A. Kings, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite the ranking, Shero told The Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti in July that he felt there were “a handful” of players at the team’s development camp who could compete for jobs at training camp in September.

“I think there will be some surprises both on the good end and maybe not-so-good end,” Shero said. “But that’s training camp and that’s the competition.”

On the blue line, New Jersey’s youth will once again be tested. The Devils could have as many as five defensemen 24 or younger this season.

“We’re out to build a winner, an elite hockey team that wins on a consistent basis so that’s got to start with the organization,” said Devils’ owner Josh Harris. “The Devils organization is and was a quality organization.

“Anytime you bring in new leadership there’s always change and I think we try to embrace that and make it really positive.”

Related: Looking to make the leap: Pavel Zacha

New Jersey Devils ’15-16 Outlook

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The New Jersey Devils have finished in the bottom-five in scoring for three straight campaigns and once again their offense is a big area of concern.

No New Jersey player reached the 50-point mark last season and only two (Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri) recorded at least 40 points. Acquiring forward Kyle Palmieri in a trade with Anaheim over the summer does help matters, but offensively the Devils look like a long-term project that has only barely begun. Years from now, perhaps Pavel Zacha, who was taken with the sixth overall pick, will be a serious scoring threat, but for now New Jersey doesn’t have much in the way of young, NHL-ready forwards.

Stefan Matteau might establish himself as an NHL regular at the age of 21, but the 2012 first-round pick has never been a major contributor offensively. There’s always the chance that Henrique, 25, will take a step forward, but his career-high remains 51 points from his rookie season when he was working with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. There’s clearly no one at that level for him to play off of at this time.

The good news is that the Devils’ situation looks less bleak when you move past their offense as in contrast, the blueline’s rebuild seems to be moving along nicely. Adam Larsson took a significant step forward last season and the hope is that he’ll lead the charge along with Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill, and Damon Severson. The oldest of them, Gelinas, only celebrated his 24th birthday in May.

Then of course there’s their goaltending, which is in the capable hands of Cory Schneider. He demonstrated last season under trying circumstances that the Devils’ goalie situation remains their strength, even in the post-Martin Brodeur era.

Taking it all in, New Jersey isn’t without its strengths and upside, but until the Devils get to the point where they’re at least passable offensively, it will be difficult for them to make a serious run at a playoff spot.

Looking to make the leap: Pavel Zacha

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With his new three-year entry-level contract in his back pocket, New Jersey Devils prospect Pavel Zacha hoping to prove he belongs in the NHL as an 18-year-old.

“I’ve never been in a full (training) camp of the NHL. I was just in development camp. But, it’s my goal for this season to play in the NHL and now it’s up to me to show everyone that I can make the team and I’ll do everything for that,” Zacha said per The Bergen Record.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder was the sixth overall selection at the June NHL Draft.

Not surprisingly, Devils’ GM Ray Shero is pumping the breaks on expectations for Zacha.

“I don’t know,” Shero told The Star-Ledger when asked if Zacha is capable of playing in the NHL this season. “One day he will. Whether it’s going to be this year or in the future, we’re not sure. I’m not leaning one way or the other. It’s a decision he makes for us at some point.

“He’s got to trust us that we’re going to do what’s best for us and what’s best for him. If that means starting the year here or playing the year here, we feel that would be the best thing. If it’s going to be the opposite and we send him back to Sarnia (OHL), he’s got to trust that’s the proper form of development for him.”

During his first season in the Ontario Hockey League, Zacha scored 16 goals and 34 points in 37 games with the Sarnia Sting. He added a goal and an assist in five games at the 2015 world juniors for the Czech Republic.

For those who haven’t seen Zacha play, North American Central Scouting president, Mark Seidel, had the following report on the center prior to the NHL Draft:

Zacha’s biggest strengths are his skating and ability to beat defenders one-on-one; he has a skill set that’s hard to handle and will become an offensive force as he develops. Like most offensive stars, Zacha still needs to work on his defensive game, but the heady Czech will add that to his repertoire for whichever team selects him.

As for what he expects to see from Zacha at training camp, Shero is taking a wait and see approach.

“I don’t want to put any added pressure on him. We had that conversation as well in terms of just coming in and enjoying the process,” Shero said. “There will be a big day, a not-so-good day, a big game and a not-so-good game maybe.

“We’re in this for the longer term. As we go through training camp well see how he picks up things in terms of systems and how he feels about his game and confidence. It’s a big step for sure.”

Related: It’s New Jersey Devils day at PHT