Top 25 Under 25, #2: Mika Zibanejad
For the second straight year, Mika Zibanejad is #2 in our rankings.
After a slow start with just six points in 21 games in October and November last season, Mika Zibanejad finished the year with 40 points in 59 games from December onwards setting a career high in goals (20), assists (26), points (46) and games played (80). At the end of the season, Zibanejad signed the first one-way contract of his career for a total of $5.3 million over two seasons.
A big part of that was that Zibanejad was given the opportunity to succeed with 75% of his 5-on-5 ice time being with Bobby Ryan, followed by 55% with Mike Hoffman and 45% with Erik Karlsson. He was also usually not asked to starts his shifts in the defensive zone and this all contributed to quite a productive year.
The question being asked about him is if he is ready to take the next step and challenge Kyle Turris for the #1 centre position? Zibanejad is 22-years old and generally forwards hit their peak offensive totals around the age of 23. In Ryan, Hoffman, Clarke MacArthur and Mark Stone, the Senators have plenty of talented wingers to surround Zibanejad with. That combined with Erik Karlsson being on the ice for half the game will give Zibanejad plenty of opportunities to rack up the points.
It is hard to exactly predict when someone will have a real breakout year, but this really feels like the sort of year where it could happen. Ignoring the one point in nine games in 2011-2012, Zibanejad has increased his points per game from 0.48 in both 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 to 0.58 last season. With an offseason without any injuries to recover from, this very well could be the season that he hits the 60-65 points range. If that does happen, is that his ceiling? It's hard to see Zibanejad having the tools to be a point per game player (very few players are these days), but he definitely should be battling Turris for ice time and linemates. As the old saying goes, you can't teach being Swedish.