The Sports Daily > The 6th Sens
Rabble Rabble Rabble: Mika Zibanejad on the First Line at Practice

In a few interviews earlier this month, management acknowledged that the Senators were going to bring Mika Zibanejad back over to North America to play in Binghamton’s final two AHL regular season games before allowing him to experience the NHL playoff atmosphere as a "Black Ace".

It’s funny how quickly things can change.

When head coach Paul MacLean replaced Colin Greening with Mika Zibanejad atop the team’s first line during this afternoon’s practice, it sent waves through the media and the internets. With nine games already under his belt this season, would the Senators be prepared to burn the first year of Zibanejad’s entry level contract (ELC) by playing him in one more game?

Afterwards in his scrum, head coach Paul MacLean explained the move by saying,

“We wanted to see how he’s doing now that his season in Sweden is over, we wanted to give him the opportunity to play with our best guys and see how he looks. We wanted to see how he has progressed.”

“If we feel like we can use him, we aren’t going to be afraid to use him, I think right now he’s going to go to Binghamton and play this weekend and he can be available to us once their season is over.”

Like any other high-profile hockey prospect drafted by a Canadian franchise, the masses have already soiled their pants having watched Zibanejad push this organization to the brink of having to keep him around out of training camp and then go on to score the golden goal in the World Junior Championships against Russia.

From his love of sunglasses…

… to his affection for puppies, the affable young Swede represents a sizeably important building block in this franchise’s bid for Stanley Cup contention.

However, as awesome as it would be to see one of the organization’s best forward prospects arrive and hopefully flourish in this postseason, I’m just not sure whether it’s worth the price to burn a year of Zibanejad's ELC for what could amount to only one or two games.

For this article, I asked @steffeG to assess Zibanejad's season in the Eliteserien and here is what he had to say:

Mika Zibanejad’s season has been a bit of a roller-coaster, obviously highlighted by his brief 9-game NHL season and the OT winner at the World Junior Championship in Calgary. After his stint with Senators to start the year, Zibanejad returned to Sweden with high expectations joining him, after his strong finish to the previous season that led to him sky-rocketing up the rankings, obviously ending up with his name being called 6th overall by the Senators brass.

Having been somewhat close to cracking an NHL lineup didn’t temper expectations from Djurgården fans and Swedish media on the teenager, and it was expected that Zibanejad would be one of the best forwards on the team this season. It’s not wrong to say that was the case, though, since this year’s version of Djurgården – not far removed and with the core intact from a second-place team from two years ago – was basically a potpourri of underperforming players.

Mika played the same number of SEL games this year, and actually increased his point total by a little bit, even though the GP number from last season also involved a number of games just sitting on the bench as the 13th forward. While he wasn’t a mainstay on the power play in any of these two years, he’s been in and out on the PP units, but failed to score a single goal. I don’t know from where the assumption is coming that Mika is a good power play player, perhaps from a few shooting galleries against lesser nations at the WJC.

Speaking of special teams, this year, the Persian-Finnish-Swedish Christian Swedish Viking have probably seen fewer shifts with a man down than he did last year as a 17-year-old rookie.

With three different head coaches, and two lengthy breaks for WJC and due to a concussion, consistency hasn’t been anything Mika’s heard of this year, being bumped from line to line as the team struggled to find the winning formula. As you might know, the season finished with Djurgården being relegated to SEL-2.

What might be more interesting to note about Zibanejad’s season is his change in attitude towards playing in the SEL. While he obviously isn’t saying anything of the sorts, and perhaps – probably – isn’t doing this deliberately, the comfort of now being a regular SEL player, and even a star on the team, instead of being the rookie that has to prove himself, made him work a little bit less at times throughout the season. Last year, he was hitting people, skating hard every shift, never trying to hide. At times this year, and you might credit this to lack of confidence because of the team’s struggles and to some degree his own, but he wasn’t nearly as physical as he was last season.

While it would be wrong to say that he’s taken huge strides in any area of the game, hopefully, a season like this has been valuable to him in terms of experiencing the highs and lows of being a pro hockey player, and him being able to start off fresh once again, starting this weekend in the city of Binghamton, all Swedes’ favourite place to go. Hopefully, being around an NHL team despite having a rough year at times, will make him finish the year on a good note.

Looking at Zibanejad's situation, I think there are compelling arguments to be made, regardless of how you feel. Here are a few factors that the Senators will have to consider:

1) Colin Greening

The man whom Mika Zibanejad would foreseeably replace in game three. There's no question that Greening's production leaves a little something to be desired from the first line left wing position. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that whatever Zibanejad can provide as a replacement player will be above and beyond what Greening can already provide.

2) Jakob Silfverberg

As much emphasis has been placed on whether the Rangers' Chris Kreider will or won't sign and join their playoff push (note: he signed this afternoon), there has been a similar emphasis on what Jakob Silfverberg has accomplished over in Sweden. With his Brynas team up one game to none in the Eliteserien Championship series, there's a very possible scenario in which Silfverberg could join the Senators.

Here is a look at how Silfverberg's SEL schedule matches up with the Senators' quarterfinals schedule:

SEL Finals Senators vs Rangers Quarterfinals
Game One: Tuesday, April 10th Game One: Thursday, April 12th
Game Two: Thursday, April 12th Game Two: Saturday, April 14th
Game Three: Saturday, April 14th Game Three: Monday, April 16th
Game Four: Sunday, April 15th Game Four: Wednesday, April 18th
Game Five: Tuesday, April 17th Game Five: Saturday, April 21st
Game Six: Thursday, April 19th Game Six: Monday, April 23rd
Game Seven: Saturday, April 21st Game Seven: Thursday, April 26th

If Brynas can sweep Skelleftea in the finals, it's reasonable to assume that Silfverberg could be made available for game four on Wednesday, April 18th. Now assuming that Paul MacLean is being truthful and the Zibanejad possibility isn't just a ruse used to give the Rangers coaching staff pause, depending on player performance and the health of the team, it may be more worthwhile just to wait on Silfverberg's availability since he is a player who will have the first year of his ELC be burned off anyways. 

Which brings me to…

3) … Game Three or Later

With the organization acknowledging that Zibanejad won't play until at least game three, assuming that there are no injuries to justify his insertion into the lineup, one has to wonder under what other circumstances he would actually draw into the lineup. If Ottawa splits or takes both games in New York, that would have to be considered a success. Why would he draw in then? Similarly, if Ottawa is down two to nothing in the series, why risk wasting a year of his ELC for what could only to two more games?

4) Playoff Experience is Playoff Experience…

Proponents of putting Zibanejad into the lineup will say that whatever playoff experience that he can acquire, especially with Ottawa's young collective of players that he will grow up playing with, is ultimately worth it. 

I don't really sit here two years after the fact and think about how gainful that first round series against Pittsburgh was for Erik Karlsson or Zack Smith but sure, why not?

Maybe he would grow more by playing than by sitting on the sidelines and watching his future teammates play.

5) Perhaps Burning A Year On His ELC Now Will Mean Less Development Time and a Cheaper Second Contract? 

Possibly, but the only guarantee that Ottawa has is his three inexpensive ELC seasons. Cheap seaons that any team that fancies itelf a contender would envy.

For months now, HNIC's Elliotte Friedman has discussed the NHL 'allegedly' looking into how to make second contracts shorter and more cost effective for organizations in the next CBA. If the owners have an appetite for preventing players from getting top dollars and term on these second contracts, it may be in Ottawa's best interests to postpone the first year of Mika's ELC until the CBA is ratified.

6) Alfie's Last Playoff

Ah, the sentimental aspect that pulls at the heart strings. I don't even want to consider Life After Alfie (LAA) but if it the Senators brass knows that this may be his last kick at the can, they may feel that they owe it to him to give the coaching staff every available tool; no matter the future cost.

7) Is Zibanejad even the best option in Bingo?

The B-Sens have had something of an awful season but there are a few players who just might warrant a greater look than Zibenajad right now *wink, wink Petersson*. Petersson must be doing something right, otherwise Nikita Filatov wouldn't be telling Andre to come to Russia, right? (h/t to Twitter follower @iandkelly for the link.)

Please tell me Rob Klinkhammer isn't the best player available.