- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

For a guy who's only 23, Dainius Zubrus has been around for a while. He already has played more than 350 games in the league, a plus for somebody his age. At the same time, the Washington Capitals are his third team in five years, which is not a good sign.
Zubrus is a strapping young man with plenty of potential. He skates well, plays the body like a bounty hunter, is large (6-foot-4, 227 pounds) and finishes checks thoroughly, but he has scored just 49 goals.
Therein lies the problem. Because of his physical attributes, good work ethic, hockey skills and draft status (15th overall in 1996 by Philadelphia), he was termed a can't-miss player. Maybe, maybe not.
The Caps are banking on Zubrus' untapped potential as being ready to surface. He plays on the left side with Andrei Nikolishin at center and Jaromir Jagr on the right, an indication coaches believe he can prosper and benefit from associating with one of the league's top players.
"Of course, it's a great opportunity for me," Zubrus acknowledged. "But I don't think we think as players that this is a dream player to play with. But [Jagr] is the best player in the league, and it's always good to play with someone like that. Right now it's just a matter of getting used to him, where he's at in certain situations, and hopefully we'll get some good things done."
The words might be slightly confusing, but the meaning was not. A Zubrus-Jagr combination might be a dream that clicks instantly, the Russian native said, or maybe there will be little chemistry.
Twenty-six of Zubrus' 49 goals have come during his last two seasons with an injury-riddled team in Montreal (his 27th came after arriving in Washington on March 13). There have been signs that his talent and coordination have caught up with his massive body. The Caps are counting on that.
"I just look at him to compete as hard as he did last season in the playoffs and so far in preseason," coach Ron Wilson said. "The results will be there because of how hard he plays. He competes, he's pretty good in his own end, he does the little things coaches appreciate and we're happy with his development up to this point."
But does he have the potential to score?
"Definitely. He's got everything he's a good skater, good skills, good speed. But he's got to concentrate more on shooting. I guess we both do," said Nikolishin, who also is constantly told to shoot more.
Zubrus was first spotted, the story goes, by then-Philadelphia (and former Caps) coach Terry Murray while the wing was playing junior hockey in Ontario at 17. Murray predicted stardom, the Flyers picked him and he played with Eric Lindros and John LeClair in his first season. Three years later, he was traded to the Canadiens and came south with Trevor Linden in March.
The reason offered for his lack of production has been improper development. In other words, Philadelphia should have left him in junior instead of rushing him to the NHL.
"I don't think it hurt me," Zubrus said. "If I had sat in the press box the first year instead of playing 68 games in the NHL, maybe, but I don't think I would have been a better player if I stayed in junior."
Said Wilson: "I don't think we should put any pressure on him just because of who he's playing with. There will be lots of people playing with Jaromir at different times. If we're patient, Zubrus should develop into a fine player. I don't think he's awestruck by a player of [Jagrs] magnitude, and certainly we're not putting any pressure on him to score 40 goals or whatever anybody's expectations of him are."
Right wing Stephen Peat, not scheduled to play in the season-opener Saturday night, was sent down to Portland, Maine, to play two games before rejoining the club.

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