The off-season is a time to reflect on each player’s performance over the course of the past season. Today SenShot begins our annual grading of the performance of each player. This year we will go in reverse alphabetical order. Up first, is a rookie who has a bright future with the franchise.
Season Review – Mika Zibanejad was a core member of the group that started the season in Binghamton during the lockout. Injuries and adapting to the North American style of play handcuffed him early on, and he didn’t have a season to write home about. He was then kept in Binghamton instead of being released to Team Sweden for the World Juniors, much to the chagrin of the Swedes. Zibanejad was not on the opening day roster for the Senators. He got the call after Jason Spezza‘s injury and subsequent surgery and became a mainstay in the lineup for the most part. In the 42 games he suited up for, Zibanejad registered 7 goals and 13 assists for 20 points, leading the Senators rookies in scoring. He finished 8th among all rookies in the NHL in scoring.
Playoffs – Zibanejad played admirably against the Canadiens in the first round, recording 4 points in 5 games and finishing +2. The Penguins were a different animal for Zibanejad as the depth down the middle in Pittsburgh was pehaps too much for the young Swede to handle. He was invisible in most of the 5 games, going pointless and a -5, and saw his ice time finish under 10 minutes in two of the 5 games.
Contract Status – 2 years remaining on his Entry Level contract that pays him just over $1M (with performance bonuses his cap hit is $1.744M
Importance to Franchise – Zibanejad, the 6th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, is an important piece of the Senators puzzle and will continue to be going forward. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I still think that his best value will come as a winger on one of the top two lines. His weakness was exposed up the middle against teams that had strong depth in that position, while his speed and ability to play a physical game would suit playing with either Jason Spezza or Kyle Turris.
Needs To Improve – No matter what position he plays in the future, Zibanejad needs to get stronger physically. If he wants to be an NHL centre, his face-off play must get a lot better.
Grade – B+. A little more consistency and he could have earned an A. He will get better as time goes on and find his role.