Top 25 Under 25, no. 4: Mika Zibanejad
Senators forward Mika Zibanejad has moved up two spots from our winter rankings and now sits at #4. His strong campaign for the Senators in 2013 may cause some to forget how disastrous his 2012 was. Let's recap:
He played for a few weeks in the Elitserien, before leaving to play for Sweden at the U20 World Championships. Zibanejad scored the overtime winner in the gold medal game, but had problems staying healthy once he returned to the Elitserien. He had five goals and 13 points in 26 games in Sweden and suffered one confirmed concussion and was also rumoured to have suffered another one.
Zibanejad's club was relegated and the Murrays were not happy with DIF's usage of Zibanejad, feeling that they were misled about the ice time that he would be given when they agreed to loan him back to Sweden. With the NHL season delayed by a lockout, Zibanejad would start the season in the AHL. He would struggle to find offence there as well, scoring only a single goal and four assists for five points in his first 15 AHL games. He would add two assists in his 16th game but was then out for seven weeks with a "toothache" that was rumoured to be his third concussion at the age of just 19. He wouldn't play again in 2012 and had just one goal on 39 shots.
Zibanejad finished 8th in rookie scoring in 2013, playing in 42 games for Ottawa. Jason Spezza's injury early in the season pushed both Kyle Turris and the teenage Zibanejad into greater offensive roles. Zibanejad seemed to get better as the season went on. There's much to look forward to:
There is a lot to like about Zibanejad’s game: offensive skills, intensity, skating and an impressive attitude. His two-way play is mature for a player his age and he just has an innate feel for many of the more subtle aspects of the game such as face-offs and reading the play along with the physical components required to win puck battles and playing tough but within the rules. The offensive skills are there and it’s a matter of more polish and experience at this point. Ottawa will look for him to keep his poise as he develops into a complete NHL power forward.
What does the future have in store for Zibanejad? It's not a question of if, but how much with Mika. He is a competent, two-way player in the NHL with offensive upside. Defensively responsible, the question remains how much offense he can produce at the NHL level. Will Zibanejad produce at the 40-50 point range throughout his career, or will he push 60+ in his prime.