The New Jersey Devils organization has a long history of keeping things in the family, so to speak.
It starts at the top, where general manager Lou Lamoriello has employed his son, Chris, as a scout and general manager of the organization’s two minor league affiliates.
More recently, Zach and Jordan Parise and Brian and Stephen Gionta have been in the organization at the same time.
The latest example comes with the addition of Darcy Zajac to the Trenton Devils roster. His older brother, Travis, has been a standout center in New Jersey for the past five seasons and is coming off a career-best season in which he tallied new personal bests with 25 goals, 42 assists and 67 points.
While it certainly isn’t unfair for the organization to hope for that kind of production one day from the younger Zajac, anyone thinking that Darcy is here just because of his brother is mistaken, says the 23-year-old Trenton center.
“I think there always has been (a stigma of being Travis’ brother). We’ve always played on the same teams,” Darcy Zajac said.
“There’s always going to be skeptics out there, people that are judging me and think I’m here because he’s here. But you know what, you look at our two games and what he’s accomplished and what I’ve accomplished individually, I don’t think there’s any reason why I’d be here because of him.”
Interestingly enough, after a four-year collegiate career at The University of North Dakota, Darcy Zajac made his professional debut in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, playing two games for their AHL affiliate in Adirondack at the end of last season.
“I was looking to get something done at the end of the year after playing four years of college, and they offered to fly me out and put me in for a few games and see what I could do and if I could help them out,” Darcy said.
“I think it was a huge stepping stone in my development. I got to go out there and really see what I needed to work on over the summer.”
Travis Zajac, who says he speaks with Darcy nearly every day, said that the two spoke about where the younger Zajac should play, going through the options Darcy had.
“I just think that with the type of style of play he has, he’d fit in with this organization,” Travis Zajac said.
“He’s good defensively, he’s good on draws, he does all the little things well. That’s what this organization looks for. He plays with a lot of energy and hopefully one day he can make a step and keep getting better and one day be here with the Devils.”
Darcy was in talks with the Flyers about signing there in the off-season, but ultimately chose the road that might have him playing with his older brother one day.
“Earlier on last year, (the Flyers) were talking to me a little bit, but I just was talking with the Devils as well and found them to be a better fit for the long run,” he said. “It’s a place I want to be and they’re good at developing players. They want to develop me, and it’s a great organization.”
Regardless of whether his brother’s in the organization or not, Darcy said that this season will go a long way towards making a name for himself, something that’s been hard to achieve with what his brother has accomplished.
“It’s huge (to make our own name) for any of us, especially your first year,” Darcy said.
“Your first couple years, you have to show what you have and show you can compete and be an asset to the team and the organization. This year is just a huge year for me. I want to be a part of something big and something special and want to develop as much as I can.”
Despite his own success, Travis Zajac is hopeful his brother’s strong work ethic will help establish him as his own player instead of being “Travis’ brother.”
“I don’t think he looks at it like (following in my footsteps),” Travis said.
“He’s trying to create his own success in the game, and I think he’s done a good job of that. He hasn’t been given opportunities, he’s gone out there and made them for himself. He’s a good player. Like I said, he’s the last one on the ice usually every day. It’s not the fact that he’s given these opportunities to have success, he creates his own success and he’s going to have a good career.”
Having followed Travis at Salmon Arm in the BCHL and North Dakota collegiately, Darcy Zajac hopes to one day have a chance to play with his brother in the NHL in Newark. Just don’t expect to see the Sedin twins out there. According to Darcy, he and Travis play a completely different style of hockey.
“I don’t think (our games) compare a whole lot,” Darcy said.
“Obviously, he’s a real offensive guy, especially with the guys he plays with, Kovy and Parise there. I like to think of myself as a more of an energy guy, I play a little more physical. I like to get a little messy sometimes, and do whatever you have to do to get the win for the team. I’m not saying I don’t like to go out there and score goals, because I think everybody does, but I think in the long run, I’m more of a two-way energy guy and more physical. Just go out there and getting the team rolling.”
Having attended both NHL and AHL training camp this season, Darcy Zajac is well on his way to one day living his NHL dream. And that’s OK with Travis.
“It would be really special (to play with him up here),” he said.
“Obviously, it was our dream to make it to the NHL. I know it’s still his dream to play here. For both of us to be here, it would be pretty special. He’s just got to look at it as getting better every game and being consistent. It’s his first pro year, so he’ll figure it out pretty quick.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com