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Email Hot Stove - Mika Zibanejad

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Our latest email hot stove, which looks at our thoughts on the deployment of Mika Zibanejad.

Zibanejad doesn't quite understand the role of defensive centre yet.
Zibanejad doesn't quite understand the role of defensive centre yet.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Do you agree with Mika Zibanejad's deployment so far?
So far this season, Mika is 6th among forwards in even-strength ice time, and 6th among forwards in total ice time, showing that he is playing the role of second-line centre. However, his Corsi Relative is -1.94% (good for 14th on the team) despite being only behind Lazar and Wiercioch in offensive zone start %. He's also facing weaker competition than the whole team except for Chiasson. All this shows that he's being sheltered, and he's not performing well in those minutes. Just looking at his basic stats, he has 2 goals, 0 assists, and 18 shots in 11 games. When you consider that in a two game span, he got both of those goals and eight shots, it means that in his other nine games, he has no points and only ten shots. (Note that the stats are a week old.)

The question is do you think he should still be given second-line centre duties? Or has he shown that he's not ready, and those minutes should go to someone like David Legwand (35.16% EV offensive zone start, higher than only Borowiecki) while Zibanjead gets a chance to find himself with less responsibility?

Sarah: This is a tough one because Mika might be like a Bobby Ryan in that he starts a season off slow. I think Mika has all of the tools in the world, he just can't quite figure out how to put the birdhouse together right now. I think he will improve over the season, however. I actually believe he's looked better in the past three games than the prior ones, as well.

That said, I'd prefer seeing him in more of a 3C role as of now. I think the Kid Line has been outplaying the 9-93-90/22 line combination for the past few games and actually look more like a second line. That could be more linemate issue though, as I think Lazar, Zibby, and Legwand are relatively interchangeable at this point. I'd like to try a 68-93-61 line to see how it works out for a second line.

Peter: I think that Mika Zibanejad is a 21-year-old player who is still figuring things out, and he needs ice time in order to do so. Since so much of the Senators' future hinges on his development continuing, and the team has such high hopes for him as a future first- or at least second-line centreman, that he needs to continue getting opportunities for the time being regardless of early-season possession metrics. His 16 goals and 33 points last season were not a fluke, and he hasn't simply forgotten how to play hockey; he's just in a funk, which he will get out of in due time.

As for Legwand, I think he was acquired for exactly this reason: To be a reliable veteran presence capable of filling in where necessary in the event of backsliding on the part of Ottawa's many young centremen. And being a defensively sound player, he was also expected to take tough zone starts so that guys like Zibanejad could get the easier ones. They're respective deployment has been, in my mind, nearly optimal.

Although I'm not really interested in assigning numbers to lines or roles, I do think that Zibanejad should continue to be among the team's leaders in ice time. He's among the best of the team in terms of offensive potential, so he needs opportunities to reach that potential.

Ross: Part of why I'm asking is someone I was talking to (not a Sens fan) said that in giving Zibanejad the second-line minutes, and giving Legwand the toughs, it looked like Ottawa had decided this season was a write-off. I disagreed completely. I think it's better for Ottawa in the future to give Zibanejad significant ice time now, but I also think that Ottawa wouldn't be much better off subbing out Zibby at this point. Last year he accomplished all he could in a sparing role. And I'm not convinced Legwand has more to give offensively than Zibanejad. I think Z-bad in his current role is at worst as good as putting Legwand in that role right now, with much more future payoff.

I'd been arguing earlier that I'd like to see Hoffman and Stone with Zibanejad. I don't think the young'uns should be split up at this point, but I think Zibanejad could use a little more help possession-wise with his wingers.

Peter: You're right in saying that those indications certainly don't mean the Sens have written off the season, Ross; in fact, I'd argue the opposite. The very fact that they signed Legwand to take those toughs probably means the team wants both a good season this year and the continued development of their young players.

The Kid Line is pretty awesome right now... maybe if they fade a bit putting Zibanejad with Stone and Hoffman would be worth trying, but not right now. If Lazar is loaned to Team Canada for the WJCs, I'd like to see that line given a shot.

Amelia: Huh. That's weird that the perception was the Sens had given up by giving Zibanejad the second line role. Not something I really considered and I don't that's what the Sens were thinking. David Legwand certainly has taken a huge hit in terms of how he's being used and his linemates, but I'm glad he's taking it and not Zibanejad.

I don't think Lazar is going to be loaned to Team Canada and I do agree that changing up Zibanejad's wingers would help a lot. But then it always becomes a question of what you do with Chiasson and Michalek. I haven't really loved any line that Chiasson has featured on this season and yet I've liked what I've seen from him.

Peter: Although this is taking things off-topic a bit, I was intrigued when the TSN panel mentioned that the Sens only play four games during the World Junior Championships--which take place nearby, in Montreal and Toronto. It seems unlikely for the time being, but I think it's at least POSSIBLE that the team will consider loaning Lazar. It would depend on whether or not he can continue playing as well as he is right now, and if he personally wants to go.

But you're probably right, Amelia. It's unlikely.

NKB: Chiasson would be much better off playing against bottom 6 competition, I think. He's got great hands, and he's made a few highlight reel plays that we all remember but I find he had a hard time getting to where he needs to be for breakouts etc owing to his weak skating. As a 3rd line winger getting easier ice I'd like him a lot more I think.

I don't have much original thought to add to what others have already said about Zibanejad. He hasn't been good, but I'd like to see him with Stone and Hoffman before writing him off too much.

Ross: If we move Chiasson down, who comes up? We could try Michalek-Zibanejad-Smith, since those wingers seemed to kickstart Lazar a couple weeks ago. Then you've got Chiasson stuck with Neil, but Hoffman managed to have an alright game playing with him and Legwand against Columbus.

NKB: I think Michalek sticks on L3 and you give ZBad a shot with Hoff and Stone. In my perfect world, You end up with something like:

Turris line
Hoff-ZBad-stone
Michalek - Lazar - chiasson
Smith-legs-Condra

Which I actually think is a great F depth.