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Daniel Zaar excelling in first season in North America

by Alison Lukan / Columbus Blue Jackets

Wednesday, the Lake Erie Monsters headed into Hershey for Game 1 one of the Calder Cup Finals, and when it was over, the team had collected a 4-1 win and forward Daniel Zaar wore the team-awarded tuxedo shirt in recognition of his two goals – including the game winner.

“He’s a gifted offensive guy,” Monsters head coach Jared Bednar told BlueJackets.com. “He’s such a strong skater, he’s got great speed and a fantastic shot and he can make plays.”

This season marked Zaar’s first playing in North America, and it hasn’t taken long for the 22-year-old to adapt to the different style of play and smaller sheet of ice.

The 2012 sixth-round pick finished the regular season as the goal-scoring leader for the Monsters in both all situations (21) and at even strength (17) according to ahl.prospect-stats.com. He was third overall on the team in points (21-22-43), and second overall in primary points (goals plus primary assists).

Bednar has slotted Zaar into his top six and given the young Swede ample time on the power play, where he scored four of his regular season goals, and earned second place on the team in primary assists with six.

“He’s a versatile guy,” Bednar said. “We move him around on our power play. He’s played as a forward position and also on the blue line as a defenseman -that’s where we have him now.”

Bednar points to two big drivers of Zaar’s success – shots and hockey IQ.

Zaar led the team in shots on goal during the regular season, and was sixth overall in the league, with 207.

“He creates those shot opportunities,” Bednar said. “I think with his speed, and that he’s deceivingly strong with the puck. He’s such a strong skater with a low center of gravity, so he’s hard to knock off the puck. He’s elusive.”

And as for that hockey IQ, it’s something the coach will mention repeatedly when talking about the right winger. Bednar credits Zaar’s ability to see the ice and read the play as part of how he gets himself into scoring opportunities.

Another place that hockey sense has helped Zaar this season? Playing defensively. 

“I think that’s the part I improved the most,” Zaar said. “Before I came (to North America) I didn’t think about that much but I realized when I came over that’s an important part, too. If you want to play you have to be able to play defense.”

All of this ability has culminated into a player that has continued to make an impact in the postseason, most notably with two goals in the first game in Hershey. Zaar also assisted on the game-winning goal in Game 2.

“That was exciting – it’s always fun to score goals,” Zaar said. “I play with two good guys too in (Alex) Broadhurst and (Michael) Chaput so we find each other out there and try to score as many goals as we can.”

In his 15 postseason games, Zaar has upped his points-per-game from .606 in the regular season to .730 with six goals and five assists. And he continues to shoot – he’s tied for the team lead in shots on goal with 43 – but is finding the back of the net a bit more. While a smaller sample size, his shooting percentage has increased to 13.95% in the post season versus 10.145% in his 71 regular season games.

“I feel so good out there on the ice, but you always want to play better and do more,” Zaar said. “I’m really pleased with this season, I really am.”

Now Zaar and the rest of the Monsters return to their home ice for the next three games in the Calder Cup Finals series, something he is looking forward to.

“I think we have stepped up in the playoffs and played much better than in the regular season,” Zaar said. “We work hard for each other and it’s a lot of fun to play right now.”


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