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Less than a week after the lockout officially ended, the New Jersey Devils were the first to put the new CBA into use, locking up 27-year-old center Travis Zajac with an eight-year, $46 million contract extension. The former first-round pick, now signed with New Jersey through 2021, tells ESPN.com's Katie Strang his thoughts on the 2013 season, the pressure he's now facing and who keeps his ego in check in this week's installment of the New York Minute.
Strang: What have you thought about the start your team has put together?
Zajac: It's early. For us, it's important to get the early points. I don't know if we've played our best hockey yet, but we found ways to win, and that's the most important thing.
Strang: For you personally, having the long layoff last season, then having to wait through the lockout this season, where do you feel your game is at right now?
Zajac: I feel great physically. I think I haven't been able to say that for awhile. I think it's good. It's coming along. I feel like I'm in a role now where I'm capable of being better offensively and defensively and taking more and more of a leadership role. Hopefully, I can continue to get better every game.
Strang: With Zach Parise no longer here and with Adam Henrique out, how much more pressure does that put on you to produce and to lead this team?
Zajac: I don't think it's too much [pressure]. I think we've always been a team where it's been scoring by committee or winning by a team effort. It's not going to be one or two guys that make this team successful. I think everyone is going to have to contribute. Saying that, I think I'm capable of doing more, and I think it's important to play within yourself. At times, when you want to do more, it's making sure you're playing the system and doing the right things and good things will happen.
Strang: When you say "capable of doing more," if there's one area where you'd like to see your game take a step, where would that be?
Zajac: I do think offensively I can contribute a little more. I'm playing with [Ilya] Kovalchuk and [Mattias] Tedenby, who are skilled wingers. I think it's important for me to make sure they get opportunities to score goals and that we create stuff offensively.
Strang: Did I hear correctly that your wife is a pretty good hockey player on her own accord?
Zajac: Yeah, she played in college. University of New Hampshire.
Strang: What position?
Zajac: She was a center.
Strang: Does she ever give you tips? Is she your harshest critic?
Zajac: [Laughing] Yeah, she lets me know when my head gets too big. She'll bring me back down to earth.
Strang: That's awesome. Love that.