-- Glen Hanlon called him the "whole package" after Wednesday's practice. But the Washington Capitals coach wasn't referring to Alex Ovechkin.

Hanlon, rather, was talking about center Dainius Zubrus, who has quietly put together a strong first two weeks in the shadows of the Caps' electric rookie.

Zubrus enters Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers ranked among the NHL's leading scorers with three goals and four assists. But statistics alone don't begin to describe his value to the Capitals. In seven games, Zubrus has, quite literally, done it all for the rebuilding club.

"It's nice to start off decently," the 27-year-old Lithuanian said at BankAtlantic Center. "But I definitely don't think I've played my best hockey of the year. It doesn't mean a thing. It's a long season. There's another 75 games to go."

Zubrus routinely faces off against the opposing team's top center. He also skates on the penalty-kill unit, anchors the power play, and when the opportunity has presented itself, Zubrus has scored, or set up, game-changing goals. He's logging 17 minutes 17 seconds of ice time, the third most among Washington's forwards, behind only Ovechkin and Jeff Halpern.

"He's the whole package for us," Hanlon said. "I can put him out for the last minute of play whether we're up a goal or down a goal. He relishes going against somebody else's top centerman. He loves that assignment. He can do everything."

Hanlon, after praising Zubrus's on-ice contributions, was quick to point out that the eight-year veteran has been just as valuable in the locker room, particularly with Ovechkin, the team's 20-year-old budding superstar. Zubrus is also one of the Capitals' two alternate captains.

"He's great with Alexander," Hanlon added. "Igor Larionov was a great role model for Pavel Bure when he came over. And Dainius is doing the same thing for Alexander."

It's the kind of opening month Zubrus -- and the team -- had hoped he'd enjoy after an injury-plagued 2003-04 season, which was followed by a contract standoff that, for a time, cast some doubt about his future with the Caps. Negotiations on a contract to bring Zubrus back to Washington got off to an icy start last summer. But the sides eventually agreed to a two-year contract that will pay him $1.85 million a year, a raise over his previous deal.

The Capitals are certainly getting their money's worth.

"He can do everything on both ends of the ice," Chris Clark said of his 6-foot-4, 226-pound linemate. "He's a complete forward."

Zubrus began the season skating between Ovechkin and Halpern. But Hanlon broke up that line last week in an effort to spread out the team's best forwards. Zubrus now centers a line with Jeff Friesen on the left and Clark on the right. It was the team's best combination Sunday in its 3-2 shootout triumph over Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.

"Like everyone," Zubrus said. "I like scoring goals and being out there when the team needs a goal. But at the same time, to be able to stop the other team's best line all night, I like that as well."

Capitals Notes: Defenseman Bryan Muir (groin) did not travel with the team to Florida. Muir is day-to-day and has not played in a game since Oct. 12.