Can Mika Zibanejad play in the NHL as an 18 year old?

Two days ago, Bryan Murray made some comments surrounding Ottawa's number 93. He essentially said that Mika was showing to be an NHL player, and that the plan was to keep him in Ottawa, perhaps past the 9 game mark of the season. The entire interview can be seen here.

It is a commonly held notion that to play an 18 year old player in the NHL is folly, because you should be afraid of rushing them and ruining their development. They point to examples of players, such as Josh Bailey and Alexandre Daigle (shudder), and say, "If those players hadn't been rushed, if they had been sent back to junior, they would have been great players" 

Scott over at The 6th Sens (One of the very best Senator blogs out there) wrote a piece saying essentially this, yesterday. I encourage you to read it, Scott brings up some excellent points. 

I, however, do not think that a player should be excluded from the team simply because they are 18. 

In the case of Josh Bailey of the New York Islanders, he showed improvement in all statistical categories between his first and second years in the league. Even just last year, in less games, managed to put up more points than his rookie year. I would argue a constant coach turnover from year to year and the fact Bailey has not played top line minutes (due to the drafting of John Tavares) has as much to do with the slow start to his career as anything else. In the case of Daigle, there was more going on there than him being rushed. The kid didn't love playing hockey, and it was his attitude that doomed him more than when the Senators decided to have him play. 

That's ignoring the fact that with players such as Bailey, people are blowing the whistle too soon. He's 21 years old. Who can say for sure he is a bust at 21? Many of these 18 year olds will play, have good seasons at 18, have tough seasons at 19, and rebound beautifully in the third or fourth years of their career. Luke Schenn? Carey Price? Raise your hand if you looked at their second year and said "they were rushed, aha!", only to have both of them have amazing years just last season. 

Not to mention, there are kids like Thomas Hickey in LA, who was drafted in 2007 and has not played any meaningful time in the NHL yet. LA never rushed him, but he hasn't developed very well at all. One could argue (and I will) that it is because he hasn't played against higher competition, and therefore does not know what he needs to improve upon. 

In the end, in my opinion, there are 5 factors that determine whether an 18 year old should play in the NHL. 

1) Is the player PHYSICALLY mature enough to play? If he isn't (Jon Huberdeau), send him back until he is ready. 
2) Does this player have the right attitude to stick around, or does he need to grow up? 
3) Is there a solid veteran presence to help guide this player? (Did Josh Bailey have this?) 
4) Will the player learn anything valuable going back to play where they were? (Jared Cowen, puck skills) 
5) Does the player's skill set fill a need on the team? 

If these 5 are met, I say stay. I look at Mika Zibanejad, and I say, 

1) The kid is a beast physically. 6'2, over 200 pounds 
2) This is hard to tell, but based on comments from coaches and teammates, people are impressed with his work ethic. 
3) Is there a more solid presence in the NHL than Daniel Alfredsson? Especially for a Swedish player? 
4) Will Mika learn much from the SEL? Hard to say, the ice surface makes it a much different game. 
5) Yes. The Sens need a skilled two-way centre who will play the body and can fill a second line centre role. 

Seems pretty clear to me. Looking for a comparable to Mika, I found Jordan Staal. He suited up for the Pens in 2006-2007 right after being picked 2nd overall (I think Mika would have gone higher if he'd been playing in Canada). He's a big, two-way centre, and he put up 29 goals and 13 assists in 81 games that year (higher than anyone expects of Mika), and has blossomed into a great number 2/3 centre since then. He doesn't seem to be ruined by being rushed. 

For a list of players who have played at 18, and their stats in that 
year, I encourage you to go to 
http://www.quanthockey.com/nhl/player-age/18-year-old-nhl-players-car...

 

So what say you, Silver Seven Nation? Are you for keeping Zibanejad around? Or would you be happier to see him next season?

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