The Ottawa Senators are giving young Swedish prospect Mika Zibanejad his first taste of NHL action for the season, as an injury to Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson suffering from the flu has created room for him on the roster.
In his first game of the season Tuesday night, Zibanejad assisted on Jim O’Brien’s second period goal against the Washington Capitals for his first point of the season and second of his NHL career. In nine games with the Senators during the 2011-12 season, he had just one assist and the team had left him in the AHL this season to mature more while continuing to adjust to the smaller ice surface. Ottawa chose to keep Zibanejad out of this year’ World Junior Championship, hoping the extra team with the Binghamton Senators would further his development. He scored the gold-medal-winning goal for Team Sweden in the the 2012 tournament, helping the team capture its first championship in over 20 years.
In 23 games for Binghamton this season, Zibanejad had scored four goals and added seven assists, with three of those goals coming in the past five games. He missed 18 games this season due to various illnesses, but came back strong. The open roster spot gives the Senators a chance to see what he’s ready to do at the NHL level, and with their depth right now it isn’t the end of the world if he ends up getting sent back down. The former sixth overall pick seems to be taking a while to adjust to the North American style of play, but his potential to be a great first or second line center in Ottawa should reward the organization’s patience.