I’m a Zibanejad fan and I don’t understand why he’s not getting more TOI. Most fans will agree that he’s arguable in the top 6 forward group and at worst, the 7th best forward on the team.
Zibanejad brings size, speed, defensive awareness and offense. His offense is still developing and while it’s good, it’s going to get better. Keep in mind when looking at his stats there’s only three players with more goals and they’ve played 7 or 8 more games. Plus Zibanejad TOI has been low in several of those games.
Add Zibanejad to the 4th line and he can adapt to the role and bring his considerable skill along with checking and energy. He makes the line better. He and Grant are very good together.
Add Zibanejad to the 3rd line with Smith and we saw 15 play some of his best hockey in a couple of years. Smith has more skill than he normally gets to show because of his unfortunate pairing with Neil. With Zibanejad on his wing or at centre, Smith looked to be playing inspired hockey. I thought they were a force together and were dominating with very good possession numbers.
Add Zibanejad to the 1st line with Spezza and he did OK. What is OK? This season OK is better than every other player that’s been auditioned in that spot. Given a chance and locked into the spot for more than a period would eventually lead to some chemistry between them. At this point it’s time to help Spezza so that he can eventually help himself by giving him a winger that can insulate the line against costly turnovers. I believe Spezza’s trying too hard to be everything to everyone and in the process he’s regressed in terms of turnovers and giveaways. Zibanejad helps fix that and doesn’t act as an anchor like MacLean’s choice of Neil does. I would imagine that having his usual left winger – Michalek - in place makes the most sense as he tries to return to form as well.
So what’s the downside to playing Zibanejad anywhere in the lineup where he can get his TOI up and produce more?