Halfway into the Mika Zibanejad NHL tryout and some things are becoming clearer where others are becoming a little muddier…
I think most Sens fans would agree that if Zibanejad’s remaining four games of his 9 game look-see continue as the first 5 did, then it will probably be a fairly easy decision to have him play the rest of the season outside the NHL. Stranger things have happened but an 18 year-old player should be an extraordinarily mature-beyond-their-years talent in order to stick at the NHL level at such a young age. Zibanejad has not looked awful but I don’t think he’s also been noticeable enough thusfar to really deem it a waste for him to play anywhere but the NHL this year. Coach Paul Maclean has already started to dial back his icetime and responsibilities and he’s also been moved to the wing in order to accommodate other Sens’ centres. It’s not hard to envision a scenario of diminishing returns through the season should he stick around where he becomes less and less of a factor. This is not what anyone wants so most likely, his 9th NHL game will be his last this year all things being equal.
So under this assumption, the next juicy question is “Where does he go?” Up until recently, the answer has appeared to be quite simple… back to Sweden because that’s the only place he can go contractually. This little question has persisted over the course of training camp and become more pertinent recently because actually, if the Sens really wanted to find a way to put their prize prospect in the AHL as opposed to have him return to his SEL team, they could. According to the transfer agreement the NHL has in place with Sweden, this involves buying Zibanejad’s SEL contract out which frees him up to play in the AHL as an 18 year old since European players are not subject to the AHL age restriction that North American players are. This issue was addressed some time ago by fellow Sens blogger Travis Yost who confirmed with International Hockey guru Bill Meltzer as to the validity of this course of action.
The next question that invariably arises is “Will the Sens take these steps?”. IMO, not likely. To do so, they’d have to first spend money in order to buyout the SEL contract (which isn’t on the top of their list for objectives this season last I checked). More importantly, they’d be going back on an agreement they had in place with Zibanejad and his SEL team in discussions taking place prior to training camp.
Even in the hypothetical situation where he goes to the AHL, it’s not even a given that the Sens would be able to find him the necessary icetime. There are a lot of Sens prospects in Bingo right now and there are guys who should be playing listed as healthy scratches as it stands. Kurt Kleinendorst would have to be very creative in order to fit an 18 year old into the mix to give him the proper amount of icetime and responsibilities to develop him properly.
Honestly, I don’t even really get the trepidation with sending him back to Sweden. He’s only 18 and shouldn’t even be here in the first place. Good for him that he’s getting a shot to see what NHL hockey is like but there is absolutely no reason to rush him.
Unlike prospects such as Jacob Silfverberg or David Rundblad (who are older and have played a couple years already in the SEL), Zibanejad still can learn a ton from playing a larger role in the SEL. He has a grand total of one half season experience (as a 17 year old) in that league and has not been in the position to dominate there yet.
Let him go back, establish himself there as well as at the World Junior’s in January, and he’ll be that much better when we see him again at next year’s training camp. Just my two cents…
In the event that Zibanejad does leave the NHL team, an unintended consequence is that it does free up the bloated Sens forward roster. With Zibanejad out of the Top 6 mix, it most likely allows the Sens to re-insert Nikita Filatov back into the lineup to get his first extended shot at establishing himself as a top line NHLer with the Sens. With Peter Regin establishing himself with Chris Neil and Nick Foligno as a very solid 3rd line presence, Stephane Da Costa can continue to be used in the 2nd line centre slot and the Sens can mix and match players like Bobby Butler and Colin Greening into other wing spots on either the 1st or 2nd line.
It will be nice to see the lineup start to form together with some kind of cohesion and Zibanejad’s demotion (to wherever he ends up going) will help that along nicely.