Jakub Zboril was one of the first people to find out that the Bruins were trading for Pavel Zacha this summer, getting the scoop about a week before the trade was actually made official.
It made sense that he would be one of Zacha’s first calls. The two grew up together in Brno, Czechia, and played together until they were 13. They’ve remained friends since, including going through the NHL Draft process together in 2015.
So, how did Zboril react to the news? There was excitement, sure. But the 25-year-old defenseman immediately had another pressing matter on his mind.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god, am I going to lose my apartment?’”Zboril said on WEEI’s Skate Podcast.
In the summer of 2021, a year before getting traded to the Bruins, Zacha had bought a home in the Boston area. He had been skating with NHL players in the area each summer since 2018, when he first joined then-New Jersey teammates and Massachusetts natives Brian Boyle and Jimmy Hayes for summer skates in Foxborough.
Zacha didn’t need the place during the season once he returned to the Devils. Zboril did need a place in Boston during the season. So, Zacha rented it out to his friend.
Already having a home here made the trade very convenient for Zacha, who simply moved in full-time. But to answer Zboril’s initial post-trade question, yes, he would be losing the apartment and would need to find a new place this season.
All things considered, it was a minor inconvenience in a year that has featured much bigger obstacles for Zboril to overcome. Just as it looked like he was beginning to establish himself as an NHL regular last season, he suffered a torn ACL on Dec. 2 that ended his 2021-22 season.
Zboril said that the beginning of the rehab process after surgery “sucked” and that he often wondered if he would be able to get back to being the same player, but that making steady progress slowly eased his mind and allowed him to feel more and more confident.
“The progress was so fast,” he said. “Everything was moving in the right direction with the guys taking care of me here. At times I was like, ‘Oh my god, what if I’m gonna struggle? What if that? What if that?’ But every time I got back to the rink in the morning, things started to pick up. Every single day I was able to do more and more, so that was just really helping me mentally to not look at the stuff that could go wrong, but what I could achieve after.”
Zboril returned to game action for the first time in Saturday’s preseason opener and showed few signs of rust. For much of the game, he looked like the best player on the ice and helped create several quality scoring chances by jumping into plays on offense. He led all players with 25:04 time on ice.
“Pretty good, honestly,” Zboril said of how he felt. “It was sore at times. As the game went on, it was getting a little bit sorer. Other than that, I felt like I was in a really good position and I played well, I think.”
Mentally, Zboril says he is in a good place as well. He wants to stick to the same mindset he had last fall during his stretch of good play, when he finally started to truly believe that he belonged on this team, at this level.
“I feel like I was just getting more comfortable being myself on the ice with the guys,” he said. “I didn’t view my teammates as someone who’s more experienced, who’s a better player than me. I was going out there to show myself and show my skill and show what I can bring to the team. So my mentality last year switched from the previous years, and that was the main difference, my mindset going into games.”
Zboril should get plenty of playing time at least until Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy return, and he’ll do so under a new coach in Jim Montgomery. Montgomery has made a point to get defensemen more involved offensively, and Zboril said that suits him perfectly.
“I love it,” Zboril said of the more offensive style. “Some would say I’m a pretty good skater, so I’m gonna use that and join rushes. Being able to go D-to-D, move the puck up, and the first D that made the pass joins the rush right away, I think it’s gonna help our offense, and I’m really looking forward to doing that more and more.”