Danius Zubrus played for the Washington Capitals from 2001 through 2006 and was one of the Capitals players who was with the team when Alex Ovechkin made his NHL debut back in 2005.
Early Life and Career
Dainius Gintas Zubrus was born on June 16, 1978, in Elektrenai, Lithuania, when Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Union. At age 11, during the summer of 1989, Zubrus moved to Kharkiv, Ukrainia to train under Ukrainian coach Ivan Pravilov. He played on the Druzhba-78 team under Pravilov where he remained through the 1994-95 season. During his time there, he and the Druzhba-78 team participated in the 1992 Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament.
The following season, 1995-96, Zubrus played for the Pembroke Lumber Kings in the Central Junior A Hockey League (CJHL). He scored 19 goals and recorded 13 assists in 28 games. Near the end of the season, the Lumber Kings traded him to the Caledon Canadians of the Metro Junior A Hockey League. In seven games with the Canadians, he scored seven goals and three assists. He played in 17 playoff games for Caledon, scoring 11 goals and recording 12 assists for 23 points overall.
Professional Career Before the Capitals
In 1996, the Philadelphia Flyers drafted Zubrus in the first round, with the fifteenth pick overall, making him the highest drafted Tier II Junior “A” player since the inception of the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).
Zubrus remained with the Flyers after his draft year. Due to the regulations on Canadian junior hockey players not being eligible to play in the AHL, the choice was to either keep him in the NHL or send him back to junior hockey.
During his rookie season of 1996-97, he scored eight goals and recorded 13 assists for 21 points in 68 games. He was the first player to score in the Flyers’ new arena, Wells Fargo Center, which replaced the Spectrum, in a game against the Florida Panthers. During the playoffs, he played in 19 games, scoring five goals and recording four assists. He followed that up in 1997-98 with eight goals and 25 assists for 33 points in 69 games.
He got off to a slow start in 1998-99, with only three goals and five assists after 63 games. The Flyers, disappointed with his development, traded him to the Montreal Canadiens, along with a second-round pick and a sixth-round pick for winger Mark Recchi.
During his first full season in Montreal, Zubrus improved to 14 goals and 28 assists in 73 games. In 2000-21, after 49 games, he had 12 goals and 12 assists, but on March 13, 2001, the Canadiens traded him and Trevor Linden to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis.
Washington Capitals Career Pre-Lockout
The Caps made the trade for Zubrus to boost their chances of going deeper into the playoffs at a time when they had a substantial lead in the Southeast Division. Then General Manager George McPhee described the acquisition of Zubrus:
“We like Zubrus’s ability. He has more skill than probably 90 percent of the players in the league. He needs to be more consistent, not unlike [Richard Zednik who they had traded in the deal]. But he’s 22 years old and Zed is 25. . . We think Zubrus can be an outstanding player one day.”
His post-trade deadline statistics were modest as he scored just one goal and had one assist in 12 games. He was pointless in six postseason games as well in a series where the Caps fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
His first full season with the Capitals, 2001-02, was his best season to date as he scored 17 goals and recorded 26 assists in 71 games. It appeared he would be the team’s top center going into the following season.
However, he started the 2002-03 season slowly following a contract impasse that caused him to miss training camp. He switched positions several times, was benched for a game and had no goals in his first 18 games, not scoring a goal until November 23.
He then injured his hand in the next game, missed nearly a week, and came back, only to aggravate his hand injury, require surgery, and miss a month. He finished strongly, with 11 assists and 15 points overall in his last 15 games to close the season. Overall, he had 13 goals and 22 assists in 63 games.
The next season, 2003-04, Zubrus had 12 goals and 15 assists in 54 games, a season plagued with injuries. He missed nearly three weeks in January due to a broken foot caused by being hit with a slap shot. He also missed time in early March with a chest injury and played in no games after March 13, due to a lingering shoulder injury.
This was also the season of the Caps’ fire sale where they got off to a poor start and unloaded most of the prominent veterans on the team, including Peter Bondra, Robert Lang, Jaromir Jagr, Steve Konowalchuknand Sergei Gonchar. The team finished close to the bottom of the NHL standings and ended up winning the draft lottery and the chance to draft Alexander Ovechkin.
During the Lockout and After
Zubrus, whose contract with the Capitals had technically expired but whose rights the Capitals still owned, signed a contract with Lada Togliatti of the Russian Super League. His new contract did allow him to return to the Capitals if a new collective bargaining agreement was in place and he could sign a new contract.
One of his teammates from the 2003-04 season, rookie Alexander Semin, also signed with Lada Togliatti. In 42 games with Togliatti Lada, Zubrus scored eight goals and recorded 11 assists. For the playoffs, in which Lada Togliatti lost to Dynamo Moscow, he played in 10 games and had three goals and one assist. He also represented Russia internationally in the World Championships and represented Lithuania in the World Championships Division 1.
Once the lockout was over, on August 18, 2005, Zubrus signed a two-year contract with the Caps. He also wore an “A” for Alternate Captain. He began the season on the top line with Jeff Halpern and rookie Alexander Ovechkin, the first overall pick from the 2004 draft, whose debut was much anticipated. Photo: Igor Rabiner/Sports Express
Zubrus had his best year in the NHL in 2005-06, scoring 23 goals and recording 34 assists for 57 points overall in 71 games. In 2006-07, he had 20 goals and 32 assists in 60 games. However, since the team had no chance of making the playoffs, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, along with defensive prospect, Timo Helbling, for rookie forward, Jiri Novotny, and a first-round pick.
In his nearly five seasons with the Caps, Zubrus had played in 331 games, scored 86 goals, and recorded 130 assists for 216 points overall.
For the remainder of the 2006-07 season, he scored four goals and recorded four assists in 19 games for the Sabres. He played in 15 playoff games, scored no goals but recorded eight assists, as Buffalo advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. His regular season totals for 2006-07 were 24 goals, 36 assists, and 60 points overall in 79 games.
For the 2007-08 season, he signed a six-year contract with the New Jersey Devils. Once that contract expired after 2012-13, he signed a three-year extension with the Devils. After the 2014-15 season, the Devils placed him on waivers to terminate the final year of his contract.
During his eight years with the Devils, he played in 554 games, scored 87 goals, and recorded 224 assists. One of the highlights during his time with the Devils was scoring four goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 23, 2008, to tie a team record. He was also part of the Devils’ team that advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 where they lost to the Los Angeles Kings.
Zubrus played one final season in the NHL, playing with the San Jose Sharks in 2015-16, where he scored three goals and had four assists. He played in 14 playoff games with the Sharks where he scored 1 goal and recorded 1 assist. Zubrus retired as a player following the season.
In total, Zubrus played in 1293 NHL games in his career, scoring 228 goals and recording 363 assists for 591 points overall. During the summer of 2018, Zubrus was appointed President of his national ice hockey federation – Hockey Lietuva.
By Diane Doyle
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