Travis Zajac WHT Hometown Boy

About Travis Zajac :

Born: May13, 1985

Birth place: Winnipeg, MB

Position: C/RW     Shoots: Right

Height: 6 ‘ 3″  Weight: 200

Regular Season

Age Season Team LGE GP G A P PIM +/- PPG SHG GWG SH%
21 2006-07 New Jersey Devils NHL 80 17 25 42 16 1 6 0 2 12.7
22 2007-08 New Jersey Devils NHL 82 14 20 34 31 -11 5 0 1 9.0
23 2008-09 New Jersey Devils NHL 82 20 42 62 29 33 5 1 2 10.8
24 2009-10 New Jersey Devils NHL 82 25 42 67 24 22 6 0 4 11.9
25 2010-11 New Jersey Devils NHL 82 13 31 44 24 -6 2 1 1 7.5
26 2011-12 New Jersey Devils NHL 15 2 4 6 4 -3 1 0 1 8.0
27 2012-13 New Jersey Devils NHL 48 7 13 20 22 -5 1 1 1 8.5
NHL Totals 471 98 177 275 150 31 26 3 12 10.2

 

My memories of scouting Travis Zajac would of course start in his WHL draft year as a 14 year old playing for the Winnipeg Hawks AAA Bantam Hockey Team.  At the time, I was scouting for the WHL’s Portland WinterHawks.

I watched plenty of Hawks games that season and Travis was a decent player in his draft year but not quite a WHL draft-able player at that time.  At one point after the Bantam Draft Travis was “listed” by the Brandon Wheat King and then later dropped.  Travis may have indicated he might pursue a NCAA scholarship.

During his 15 year old season playing for the AAA Hawks Bantam 1 team, Travis had grown a little, his game was really developing and I was paying more and more attention to his game ……  before I continue I’ll give an explanation of the 50 man list and a couple WHL terminologies.

WHL 4Brief Explanation of the “WHL 50 Man Player List” And “Camp Invites” 

Each WHL Club is allowed to place 50 players on its Protected Player List (PPL).

The “50 Player Protected List” is used by the WHL to ensure there is an orderly method for WHL Clubs to access the playing rights to players promoting a competitive balance.

After the completion of the annual “WHL Bantam Draft” (held in late April or early May), the undrafted 14 year olds are all free agents that can be “Listed” by any WHL team.

All roster players on a WHL team are included on the 50 Player Protected List leaving 27/28 spots available for future prospects.  Players are evaluated, added and dropped during the course of the season and as a result the PPL is constantly changing.  The 50 Player Protected List is used strictly to determine which WHL Club holds the player’s rights.

College List

WHL teams can transfer a player from their 50 man PPL to a special “College List” if they lose him to a NCAA program for the length of his WHL eligibility.  If a WHL team decides to list a player that is already playing in the NCAA they have to place him on their 50 man PPL for three months before transferring him to the “College List”

Camp Invite

Non-Listed players will receive a letter or letters from one or multiple WHL teams to attend their rookie or main camp in late August.  Most camps are all held at the same time so the player does have to weigh different factors to choose which WHL camp to attend.

 

Zajac3

New Jersey Devil Travis Zajac

Back To Travis Zajac 

I’m not sure at that time if Travis’s intentions were common knowledge to everyone or not and I’m sure Travis even had decided anything yet.  It didn’t matter to me because a good player is a good player.  My job was to identify talent and to sell the program later. The main recruiting is up to the Head Scout, Coach and General Manager.

I was still interested in Zajac as a  “List” player.  There was still a pretty big window for Travis to decide his future as he was still a couple of years away from college age.  This is where the 50 man PPL comes in.  If I thought a player was good enough to be listed, I’d file a report and talk to the Head Scout.  With only 26-27  list spots available for non-roster players, I have to be able to say “I think he’s better than “Player X” on our PPL.  If the Head Scout hasn’t seen my guy play for awhile, this even makes it tougher.

The last time I saw our non-roster players would have been at training camp in August and there were years I never made it to our training camp in Kimberly, BC because of my other time job.  This made it extremely hard for me to get Zajac listed with WinterHawks because I  couldn’t honestly say he was better than “Player X”.

The team should always comes before a personal agenda.  Believe it or not it is very competitive even within the confines of your own team.  I really hated the regional bias that existed in the WHL, but that’s another story for another time.

It was already late in the year and teams were preparing for the draft so PPL spots were at a premium.  Nobody was going to list him now so I figured he was safe and I’d try to recruit him as a camp invite during the summer.

It was late April and the Provincial Championships were being played so I figured I’d go watch since nothing else was going on.  The Hawks  either won their league or were hosting the tournament but that is a moot point.  Travis was playing really good hockey and it was during this weekend that I decided enough was enough and we should list Travis.  I was going to talk to the Boss and see if we could free up a PPL spot for him.  We could list him and talk to him and his family during the summer about attending “Training Camp” etc etc.

The Portland WinterHawks have a very good reputation for having one of the top scholastic programs in the WHL.  It’s not a tough sell to go play hockey in Portland so I always thought we had a shot to recruit ANY player.

It was a Sunday afternoon at River East Arena and there were only a couple of scouts in the building.  All the work for most guys was done long ago and now we were just watching a hockey game as fans for the most part.

BUT  — even at this level of hockey the scouting and recruiting is very competitive and there is always a certain level of paranoia.  There were a couple of Wheat King scouts at the game which is not unusual as they are the “Home Team”.  They are a very proud organisation that likes to make sure they have their backyard covered.  Ron Bell the Medicine Hat Tigers scout, was also there which wasn’t unusual either as he would always be at the rink.  He was/is a good scout and a good guy.

Now, I can’t even remember if we (WinterHawks) put in a claim for Travis Zajac but sure as shootin’ when the WHL transaction list came out that week he was listed by the Medicine Hat Tigers!!! Way to go Ron!!!

I don’t know if my presence at this game had any bearing on Medicine Hat listing Travis but it does offer a certain level of validation.  Scouts are constantly second guessing themselves.  It takes a few years to develop that “Mental Catalog”  that becomes your reference point along with the 1000’s of scouting reports you’ve written for every player you’ve ever watched.

Travis Zajac never played in the WHL.  He played for the St. James Canadians in the MJHL and then two years in the BCJHL for the  Salmon Arm Silverbacks.  Zajac’s play earned him a scholarship from the University of North Dakota.  Perfect!   He was only two hours from his friends and family in Winnipeg.  He had two solid seasons for the “Fighting Sioux” and was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2004 in the 1st round, 20th overall.

Was Travis Zajac one that I let get away?  Who knows?  Anybody that knows me will tell you I am very partial to the WHL and to all the Manitoba born players and especially the Winnipeg kids I’ve watched over my 15 years scouting in the WHL.

I feel a connection with these players even if they didn’t play for Prince George (my previous team) or Portland or even the WHL for that matter.  I absolutely love it when one of our Manitoba kids has success in hockey.  Travis Zajac did it right.  Way to go!!!

Random Tid-Bit

The following WHL stars were not selected in the WHL Bantam Draft but were added (Listed) to a WHL Club PPL at a later date: Jarome Iginla, Darcy Tucker, Dan Hamhuis, Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul, Jeff Woywitka, Travis Zajac and Shane Doan just to name a few.

The “College List” can be quite valuable.  It occasionally happens that a player from the NCAA ends up leaving school for one reason or another.  If he is on your College List he is eligible to play in the WHL and BINGO you probably have a roster player.   A player can go from the NCAA to the WHL but if a player attends a WHL camp and he plays in one pre-season game he will lose his NCAA eligibility.

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