Zaitsev happy with rookie season

(Courtesy Marc Smith)  When the Moose Jaw Warriors selected in the 2016 CHL Import Draft, they were looking for a defenceman that could step into their lineup and make an impact right away.

Dmitri Zaitsev lived up to those expectations during a solid rookie season in the Western Hockey League with the Warriors.

The 19-year-old progressed throughout the season and was a key piece in the Warriors’ top-four during the playoffs.

“I feel it was a pretty good year,” said Zaitsev after the Warriors lost out in the first round to Swift Current.  “This was a good experience for me and I know how I can play better, so this was good for me.”

Zaitsev was a seventh round pick of the Washington Capitals in the 2016 NHL Draft and came to the Warriors after one season in the North American Hockey League.

He finished the year with two goals and 20 points in 70 games, while also posting a plus-19 rating.

“In the Western Hockey League, it’s a much faster league than where I was last year and every team is hard to play against,” said Zaitsev.

“I learned that you need to play hard every game because every team want to win and every team is really good in this league.”

Zaitsev brought a physical and steady presence on the Warriors’ back-end.

He also featured a big shot from the point, but it took him until the last month of the regular season to finally find the back of the net.  There were a few moments earlier in the season when the Russian defenceman thought he had his first WHL goal, but it was credited to a team on a tip.

He scored twice in his final seven games in the regular season.

Heading into next season, Zaitsev said he wants to keep improving across the board.

“I want to improve my skills and I want to be faster next year, I also want to be stronger, so I will work hard over the summer because we’re going to win the Memorial Cup next year,” he said.

After losing out in the first round to the Swift Current Broncos in this year’s playoffs, Zaitsev is confident that the team will come back stronger in 2017-18.

“We will not lose next year because we lose this year,” he said.  “Everybody hungry now, everybody is angry and we will use this year, next year.”

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