Draft Week: Mika Zibanejad

With the 2011 NHL Entry Draft coming up this Friday, SenShot will take a look at the five forward prospects that will be on Ottawa’s radar come draft night. Today, we examine Mika Zibanejad.

Who is this man?

Probably the most mysterious prospect in the draft, we have the International Man of Mystery, Mika Zibanejad. Nicknamed Z-BAD, Zibanejad has been playing center for Djurgarden in Sweden for the last two years and has rocketed up the draft rankings over the last year.

A big, strong two-way center, the 6’2″, 191 lbs Zibanejad plays a hybrid Swedish-North American style as he imposes his will on opponents. Never afraid to initiate contact, Zibanejad plays hard at both ends of the ice and has the puck skills to dangle helpless d-men.

In 2010-11, Zibanejad began the season with Djurgarden’s junior team before getting the call up to the Swedish Elite League in December. He registered nine points (5-4–9) in 26 games in the Elite League and 21 points (12-9–21) in 27 games with the junior team. Zibanejad really turned heads for Team Sweden at the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challengein Timmins, Ontario, recording five goals and nine points in six games helping lead Sweden to a bronze medal.

Zibanejad, whose mother is Finnish and father is Iranian, speaks Swedish, Finnish and English. Signed for two more years to play with Djurgarden, whoever picks him will have to wait a bit before he makes an impact in the NHL. Here’s what the experts say:

As per TSN‘s Bob McKenzie,

Strengths -Intelligent two-way center with a heavy shot. Above average sense and anticipation, uses his size and strength for both offensive and defensive purposes, not afraid to play physically and likes to initiate contact. Powerful skater and a non-stop motor, excellent on faceoffs.

Weaknesses - Minor concern with his quickness, didn’t show natural finish at times, fumbled several scoring opportunities during the U-18’s.

NHL Upside -Has been compared to Mike Fisher and Nicklas Backstrom. May not have Backstrom’s offensive upside, but could develop into a formidable two-way second-line center.

As per The Hockey News Draft Preview,

Generally speaking, young players who do not put up big numbers in the Swedish Elite league improve when they mature as NHL players and scouts are counting on that being the case with Zibanejad. He’s a powerful skater, has a good shot and finishes his checks. 

NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb

“Mika’s a real power forward but also has soft hands, good vision and fine skating skills. He has tremendous balance and is hard to knock off the puck. He’s very strong in the battles along the boards, finishes checks with authority and has a heavy shot that he gets off quickly. Mika’s a competitive player who is willing to pay the price to score a goal. He does have a very good understanding of his defensive duties.”

McKenzie has Zibanejad ranked ninth overall, while The Hockey News has him at 11th overall, and the International Scouting Services has him at seventh overall.

Here’s a video of Zibanejad scoring a sweet goal in the Swedish Elite League.

If Zibanejad was selected by the Sens, what should Sens Army expect?

Zibanejad is a different case than Ryan Strome and Sean Couturier. While Strome and Couturier are considered sure fire top six/potential top three players, Zibanejad is still somewhat of an unknown. While his ceiling may be as a second line center, Zibanejad currently plays as a third line center for his team in Sweden. However, this was his first year in the Swedish Elite League and he may play a more prominent role in the upcoming season.

With Jason Spezza entrenched as the number one center in Ottawa for the foreseeable future, Zibanejad would be groomed as a second line center to compliment him. As a two-way center, he would be able to help take some of the offensive load off Spezza, and could provide an offensive threat from the second line. With Ottawa lacking any impact centerman in the system, Zibanejad would be counted on to play a huge top six role and be one of the prospects that will help turn this franchise around. With good size (6’2″, 191 lbs), Zibanejad still has room to grow and become even stronger then he already is.  

Compared to NHL’ers Mike Fisher, Bobby Holik, Jacob Josefson and Nicklas Backstrom, Zibanejad has even had his potential linked to superstar Detroit forward, Henrik Zetterberg. His potential is high and could be a scouts dream find, but he is at least two years away from competing in the NHL. Out of all the highly ranked prospects, Zibanejad is part of the second tier of prospects and could be the player most likely available when Ottawa steps up to the mic at the sixth position. Some may see it as a reach if Ottawa selects Zibanejad at 6th overall, which may leave Ottawa with options to trade down in the draft to pick-up another asset and still get Zibanejad in an Sens jersey. Could he be the next Ottawa Senator?

Check out the other prospects we have examined so far: Sean Couturier and Ryan Strome

The 2011 NHL Entry Draft goes Friday and Saturday in Minnesota. Stay tuned to SenShot as we will provide complete coverage of the draft and of all the prospects selected.

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Tags: 2011 NHL Entry Draft Jason Spezza Mika Zibanejad Mika Zibanejad NHL Ottawa Senators Ryan Strome Sean Couturier

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