The New Jersey Devils have yet to sign their last remaining restricted free agent Pavel Zacha this summer and it appears the former first-round pick may be on his way out of the NHL as a result. 

A source confirmed a report by Sport Express’ Egor Eronko saying Zacha has agreed to terms on a contract with Avangard Omsk of the KHL, however, neither the Devils nor Avangard have confirmed the signing. New Jersey presented their 2015 first-round selection with a qualifying offer prior to the June 25th deadline, so the Devils would retain Zacha’s NHL rights and he would remain on the reserve list should he leave North America for the KHL. 

The KHL does not allow NHL out clauses in their contracts, so if the 22-year-old Zacha does sign that deal, he’ll be playing in Russia next season. He would not be eligible for a midseason NHL return. 

Devils general manager Ray Shero told the Associated Press he is still hopefully to get a deal done but “doesn’t care” if Zacha signs with the KHL or even Brampton of the ECHL. Zacha’s agent, Patrik Stefan, brought up the scenario recently but it’s not what Shero would advise.

”It’s a long road back to the NHL,” Shero told the AP.

Messages to Stefan were not returned. 

A big (6-foot-3), speedy center out of the Czech Republic, Zacha grew up idolizing former Devils’ great Patrik Elias and has memories of Elias bringing the cup back to his hometown of Třebíč, which isn’t far from Zacha’s hometown of Brno. He came to North America in 2014 and played two seasons for Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 28 goals and assisting on 36 (64 points) in his draft season. 

Presiding over his final draft with New Jersey, former general manager Lou Lamoriello, along with Shero, selected Zacha with the sixth overall pick. He was an offensive force with tremendous speed and a booming shot and the club hoped he would blossom into the second-line center he was projected to become at the time he was drafted. But it took Zacha three seasons to find any sort of consistency at the NHL level and he was looking at a bottom-six role coming into this season. 

Zacha talked about troubles putting the defensive and offensive parts of his game together, at times focusing more on one aspect than the other. He was demoted to the American Hockey League early last season. The demotion proved beneficial as he scored a career-high 13 goals last season. He put up 25 points for the second straight season, edging his mark of 24 from his rookie season, owned a 46.3 percent Corsi and won 48.9 percent of faceoffs in 2018-19. 

With the new additions to the Devils roster for the upcoming season, Zacha’s role was unclear. Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes are expected to have the top two center spots locked up. Travis Zajac will once again center a checking line. That left a fourth-role line. Zacha would be competing with Kevin Rooney and possibly even Michael McLeod. There was talk of moving one of them to the wing, but regardless, Zacha’s skill set doesn’t really fit on the fourth line. 

Zacha has 201 NHL games to his name is not eligible for arbitration. 

While Zacha has trained in New Jersey in past summers, this year he moved his offseason training up to Boston to join a larger group of NHL players, including former New Jersey center Brian Boyle. 

The situation could change and Zacha has until December 1 to sign a contract with the Devils. This could just be a way to speed negotiations along or it could be a way for him to get his game going again.

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