In the Summer of 2007 the New Jersey Devils signed forward Dainius Zubrus to a six-year, $20.4 million contract. At the time Zubrus signed the deal it was hoped he would fill the role of a top six forward. Unfortunately, his offensive production has yet to justify such a huge payday. Still, he remains a useful member of the Devils forward core.
While it’s obvious Zubrus is grossly overpaid for his skill set, he’s often been the hardest working player on the ice for the Devils. In 2008, he had one of the best offensive games in Devils history. He tied a team record with four goals in one game in 7–3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite the offensive outburst, New Jersey fans had already realized goal scoring was not his forte but that effort solidified a place in the hearts of the fans. Since then Zubrus has been used in a variety of roles and for the most part has been a useful role player for New Jersey.
In 2009, Zubrus was sidelined for 31 games when he fractured his knee cap blocking a shot. Otherwise since signing with New Jersey he’s been the picture perfect example of consistency. In his first four seasons with the Devils, Zubrus has averaged nearly 34 points and 74 games played a year. That’s roughly 13 goals and 21 assists with very little time lost to injury. Clearly, the 135 (51g 84a) points he’s collected during that span are not a true barometer of his value to the team.
The 6′ 5″ Lithuanian has tremendous size and posses enough skill to play with the Devils top offensive players, such as Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. His ability to use the body to protect the puck gives him a tremendous advantage when cycling the puck down low. He has a keen hockey sense and can create prolonged possession in the opponents end by keeping his feet moving while working along the boards. He has a knack of creating space for linemates where there was none. .
Although he is best suited in the role of third line center, Zubrus has filled in nicely on both the second and third lines during his stint with the Devils. He plays a solid two-way game at center and has earned time on both the power play and penalty killing units. He will be expected to do much of the same in the upcoming season.
I really like watching him play. He is the type of guy fans can really get behind. He’s big and strong much like a Bobby Holik, except I think he has better hands. The only real downside to Zubrus is his contract. Many. including myself, feel that if there’s an expendable piece on the Devils’ forward lines, Zubrus would figure to be it. My gut tells me that he will be the next veteran to find a new home regardless if the Devils are playing well or not. Obviously I hope that’s not the case but Lou Lamoriello has made it quite clear that he wants to make room for younger guys to play.
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