The Ottawa Senators are hoping that their first round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft is ready for the big time.
Last season, Mika Zibanejad played nine games with the Senators at beginning of the 2011-12 season, but his 0-1-1 performance wasn’t enough for the team to keep him on the roster. Instead, he was sent back to Sweden and the Djurgardens team, with whom he’d been playing. This year, the Senators are confident enough in his talent to bring him to North America, either with the team proper or their American Hockey League affiliate, the Binghamton Senators.
Zibanejad is currently in Lake Placid, New York participating in the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp as part of Team Sweden.
According to assistant general manager Tim Murray, their intent last season was to keep Zibanejad in Ottawa, but the organization thought he’d better hone his skills with another year in Sweden. “The NHL is a tough league for anybody, especially an 18-year-old kid coming from Europe for the first time,” said Murray. “I thought he played pretty well. He had some good games. I think it was the right thing to do to send him back. Hopefully that comes through in the next couple years.”
One area that will need to be addressed is Zibanejad’s future participation in the World Junior Championships, for which he’s eligible in 2013. In the 2012 championships, he scored the goal in overtime that won gold for Sweden. The Senators encountered a similar situation when Robin Lehner played in Binghamton and ultimately opted to keep him there rather than release him to play with the Swedish team.
If Zibanejad makes the team and brings the kind of play he had at World Juniors to Ottawa, the Senators may have a strong fighting chance this fall.