Nolan Zajac has always had big skates to fill.
The 21-year-old defenceman, one of 37 players at last week’s Winnipeg Jets development camp, is brother to New Jersey Devils centreman Travis Zajac. The youngest of four brothers, Nolan’s other siblings, Darcy and Kelly, both play for the Albany Devils in the American Hockey League, New Jersey’s top affiliate. Their father, Tom Zajac, played for the University of Denver Pioneers.
Nolan also plays for DU. The Garden City resident and West Kildonan Collegiate graduate said being a member of a hockey dynasty isn’t a burden.
"It’s definitely helped me, especially playing against bigger guys. It translated from when I was younger, always playing against my older bigger brothers," said Nolan, who stands 5-11 and weighs 180 pounds.
Nolan is going into his third season with DU. Prior to joining the Pioneers, Nolan played in the United States Hockey League for three seasons with Cedar Rapids and Omaha, playing in the USHL All-Star Game in 2011. An offensive D-man, Nolan put up 23 points in 42 games in the 2013-2014 season, and 26 points in 37 games in the 2012-2013 campaign.
"I’m the guy who likes to push the pace, jump up for sure, but I don’t really want to be known as just that. I think I’m a good two-way player," Nolan said.
"I’m definitely working on it (defensive zone play). I take pride in that. I don’t like getting scored on. I like to do whatever I can to make the team win, but my biggest asset is offence."
In addition to playing better in his own end, Nolan is looking to improve his strength and speed in time for next season.
"Adding more strength, getting a little faster, a little quicker," Nolan said. "That’s the name of the game right now and then everything else falls into place. I can work on the stickhandling, shooting, stuff like that, but right now it’s more of the off-ice stuff."
Nolan is studying communications at DU with a minor in business. He hopes to play hockey professionally, but if that doesn’t pan out, he doesn’t plan on straying too far from the rink.
"When I’m done playing hockey I definitely want to do something involved with hockey, maybe marketing as I’m taking some business classes. As long as I can stick with the sport, becauseI think that’s what I’m best at," Nolan said.
Just as long as he’s not pumping gas. Tom is the manager of a Co-op gas station and all of his boys have spent time washing windows and checking oil.
"I haven’t worked there for a couple years. I kind of got away from it somehow. Not really looking forward to going back there if I have to," Zajac said.