Senators 2011 6th overall selection Mika Zibanejad is in town now preparing for the Sens rookie camp and eventually main training camp. Before even seeing him step on the ice in a competitive environment, there have been many opinions offered on where he should play this winter. There are 2 options for Zibanejad: 1) Play with the Senators or 2) Get sent back to Sweden to play with his SEL team, Djurgårdens.
It is tough for an 18 year old player to make a statement in his rookie season. Jeff Skinner did last season, but for every Skinner there is a Tyler Seguin who was good enough to make the Bruins but didn’t play a huge role during the season. Where does Zibanejad fall on that spectrum? I would suggest that he would fit somewhere in the middle. I don’t think he would be a rookie of the year candidate, but he would be able to play a consistent role on the Senators, on the second or third line. This Senators club isn’t deep on offensive talent, and will be counting on a rebound from Peter Regin and/or the emergence of Nick Foligno as a consistent offensive threat in order to round out the second line.
Will keeping Zibanejad around the Senators help his future development or hurt it? There are pros and cons for each side:
- He probably has the size and skill level to be able to play in the NHL right now
- He can learn on-ice from Daniel Alfredsson, a countryman who is a consumate leader and a skilled player who knows the tricks of the trade
- Getting him to Ottawa allows him to learn the North American style of play and the quirks of playing on small ice
- Not playing him in Ottawa this season means it could be a couple of years before he gets a taste of NHL action if the lengthy labour stoppage I predict will happen actually occurs
- He has only played against men for a matter of 26 games, having played in the SEL since February
- Zibanejad would be a candidate to play an important role in the World Juniors for Sweden
- His fast rise in the draft rankings means he has not been in the bright spotlight for long, and he could use time to adjust to playing at a high level, but not necessarily the highest
- He will not likely mean the difference between the Senators being a playoff team or not, and playing him in this situation would burn a year off his arbitration and UFA eligibility.
There are obvious pros and cons to keeping him and sending him home for further seasoning. These are all off-ice issues, and the important parts are yet to come – his performance on the ice. Training camp will go a long way to swaying the needle one way or the other. I think Bryan Murray‘s preference would be to see Mika have an outstanding camp and make the decision to keep him here a simple one.
As much as I want to see what he can do in the NHL, I think both Mika and the Senators are best served by taking it slow and letting him play this season in Sweden, play in the World Juniors and develop at a pace he is comfortable with.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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