Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

June 28, 2008

SABRES: Zagrapan hopes grasp of English transfers to better point production

LEWISTON — He’s still meek. Shy. Reactive rather than proactive.

In some ways, it’s as if Marek Zagrapan is still behind a barrier, even though it’s no longer the English language. The Sabres’ 2005 first-round pick has become a better translator, but that hasn’t translated into success.

When asked if this is the season he’ll blossom into a fixture with the Sabres, Zagrapan politely responded:

“Hopefully. Hopefully.”

He is nothing if not likable, a quiet kid with talented hands and a smooth stride. The next step in his development is becoming a leader, first on the ice, then on the scoresheet.

This week’s developmental camp at Niagara — sessions resume today with another schedule set of scrimmages on Dwyer Arena’s main rink from 3 to 5 p.m. — is Zagrapan’s third with the organization.

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During his first, he was a wide-eyed teen, still trying to understand the conversation floating around him.

Zagrapan admitted Friday that his first taste of life in the National Hockey League was one he couldn’t quite figure out.

“I didn’t understand what they were saying in the locker room,” he said. “I didn’t understand what the coaches were trying to tell me. I didn’t know how to have a conversation with the guys.”

Slowly, he has adjusted. He still longs for his native Czech Republic when he’s here, but after two full seasons in Rochester, Zagrapan said the feeling now goes both ways.

“It’s funny, I went home as soon as the season was over,” he said. “And when I’m home, there are some things I miss about here. Like the food.”

Sabres management hopes Zagrapan starts taking to the NHL game the way he’s taken to the area’s Italian dishes. He got better as last season unfolded in Rochester, but that isn’t saying much considering the team’s horrific losing skid. Zagrapan’s stats weren’t horrible — he finished with 18 goals and 22 assists in 76 games — but he’s starting to leave the comfortable area of high prospect and drift into the treacherous terrain of first-round bust.

Zagrapan is only 22, but he’s watched as others have jumped ahead of him on the learning curve. He’s now one of the veterans at the camp, rather than a youngster with plenty of developmental time ahead of him.

“There were a bunch of older guys I looked up to,” Zagrapan said. “I just want to do my best.”

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