The most debated issue of this early Ottawa Senators season is no longer up for debate: The Senators have returned rookie Mika Zibanejad to Djurgårdens IF of the Swedish Elite League for the 2011-12 season.
In his nine-game stint with the Senators, Zibanejad had one assist, two penalty minutes, and was -3 while playing between 11 and 15 minutes per night. He definitely appeared physically capable of playing in the NHL, but aspects of his game will need to be refined over the course of the season, particularly his puckhandling, puck control, and shooting skills.
Zibanejad had just 9P (5G, 4A) with Djurgårdens last season, but, heck, he was only 17 for much of the year. One would assume Zibanejad will become one of the go-to players for 2011-12. He's a big kid and will be one of few guys on the roster with NHL experience, and he can skate very well. Whether he will have the kind of breakout season David Rundblad has last year with Skelleftea remains to be seen, but Zibanejad certainly has the tools to be a dominant player in the Elitserien. We can also expect to see him suit up in a leadership role with Sweden's U-20 squad at the World Junior Hockey Championships this upcoming January.
Whatever happens this season, Zibanejad has shown that he's very close to being a good to very good NHL player. Another year developing in Sweden should help him get there.
UPDATE: It should also be mentioned that this move also results in Zibanejad's contract "sliding" over to next year. In effect, his entry-level contract with the Senators still carries another three seasons after this year. It may not have been a chief factor in the decision to send him back, but it was likely one of them.
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