Coming into this season, San Jose Sharks forward Dainius Zubrus had played in 1,243 NHL games.
At 37-years old in a league trending towards younger players, Zubrus was left without a guaranteed contract throughout the entire offseason.
Just a few weeks into the regular season though, Zubrus almost ended up a St. Louis Blue. In late October, the Blues were without some key forwards due to injury. Zubrus and former Shark Martin Havlat were brought in on pro-tryout contracts. Havlat ended up signing a one-year contract only to leave the team less than a week later citing personal reasons.
Despite the injuries and Havlat's departure, Zubrus never signed with St. Louis.
Now he is playing against them as a member of the Sharks and playing at a high level to boot. St. Louis meanwhile employs two agitating fourth line players in Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves (inferior players).
During the regular season Zubrus chipped in seven points in 50 games, showing the versatility to jump up onto the Joe Thornton line for a handful of games. A long-time top-six forward, Zubrus has the skills to do just that, but has fully accepted being a role player at this stage of his career.
Zubrus played for Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer in New Jersey so there is a familiarty factor. The Sharks staff couldn't ask for a more trustworthy, team-first depth forward.
Hard Work Pays Off for "Zuby"
Despite having a solid showing in the regular season, Zubrus was left out of the starting lineup for the majority of these playoffs. Yet there were no reports of pouting or whining for ice time. And as luck would have it, the Sharks needed Zubrus to come into action for the slumping Tommy Wingels and especially now with the injury to Matt Nieto.
Even though he hadn't played in weeks, Zubrus played a key role in San Jose's Game 5 win over the Predators. At six-feet, five-inches and 225 pounds, Zubrus has a long reach and isn't afraid to bang the body along the boards. Combine those physical attributes with top-six forward skill from his prime, and he can be a very effective bottom-six player.
Zubrus didn't get on the score-sheet in his first game, but he made a postive impact. In the games since, he has continued to build upon that performance. In Game 7 against Nashville, Wingels drew back into the lineup to play alongside Zubrus, and the two physical fourth liners teammed up to pin the Predators deep in their own zone on a regular basis during their shifts. Again, no goals, but quality shifts.
And in Game 2 of these Conference finals against St. Louis, Zubrus finally was rewarded for the hard work he has put in with a one-goal, one-assist effort. Sure, the goal was an empty netter, but it was scored via a nice backhand clear from his own zone. As far as empty netters go, that was of the more impressive variety.
Zubrus' assist however came on the game-winning goal in the first period. Wingels did a good job staying onside during the zone entry and following up a low-to-high cycle, Zubrus found Wingels open in the slot with a nice flat pass on the tape. Nick Spaling was screening in front and Wingels' wrist shot trickled in after being partially stopped by Brian Elliott.
Nobody wanted Zubrus this offseason (that includes both the Sharks and the Blues) and now the veteran is playing a key role deep into the postseason. He has posted a 55.6 Fenwick-for percentage in the playoffs, plus-6.8% relative FF, 53.3 Corsi-for percentage and an plus-8.1% relative CF. Those are some pretty damn good possession numbers for a guy nobody wanted 10 months ago.