Mika Zibanejad making big impact for Ottawa Senators
PHILADELPHIA Sometimes you forget how young the Senators really are.
Mika Zibanejad is sitting at his stall with reporters in the visitors dressing room after Tuesday’s morning skate in Tampa. From across the room, Robin Lehner tells somebody to ask Zibanejad about the loss he suffered a day earlier.
“Oh, he got his first win in 10 games probably . it’s the first game he’s won on the whole road trip,” said Zibanejad. “I was Ottawa. He was Boston. I had HIM in net. He let in three out of four shots. In the first period I was down 3 0. What am I omega watches supposed to do?”
What else? He pulled Lehner.
“Right away,” said Zibanejad.
Lehner argued that wasn’t the first time he has defeated his fellow Swede.
“He’s leading, yeah, but he’s an Xbox veteran and I’m new,” he said. “And I still beat him. That says a lot. We’ll see what happens. We’re going to start now. Now we’re going to go on a series.”
Had Daniel Alfredsson not already left the room, he would have felt right at home. This might be a conversation his sons Hugo and Loui would have. Alfredsson, at 40, is the same age as Lehner and Zibanejad, combined. Until April 18, at least. That’s when Zibanejad says goodbye to his teenage years. That’s when he hits the big 2 0.
“I don’t know, turning 21 is maybe bigger,” Zibanejad said, grinning. “Going away from the last teen year, or whatever you want to call it, is not a big deal for me, I guess. You guys like to spice it up a bit and see it from different angles, but I don’t. It’s just another number.”
We may “spice it up” because there’s not many teenagers playing hockey, in the world’s best league. Zibanejad, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, is one of 19 players selected that June who have already made their NHL debut.
Only R omega watches yan Nugent Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw have more career points at this stage. And Zibanejad is making as big an impact on his team as any of them are making on theirs.
He is fourth in team scoring with 19 points, two behind Alfredsson. He also leads the Senators in plus minus, at plus 10.
Eighteen Senators average more ice time than Zibanejad’s 13:25 a night, but recently, on an all rookie line with Jakob Silfverberg and Cory Conacher, that number has gone up, too.
“The best players play, and lately, in the last couple of games, they’ve been the best line,” coach Paul MacLean said before Tuesday’s 3 2 loss to Tampa. “He has more confidence, and we have more confidence in him. His skill level is continuing to rise, and the final player we’re going to see consistently in the league, I think, is starting to come into some kind of frame, as a big body that can skate through the middle of the rink and make plays and can shoot the puck.
“It’s a real good sign.”
The Senators have shown patience with Zibanejad. MacLean frankly states Zibanejad “wasn’t very good” when he came back from Sweden to start the season.
“His conditioning wasn’t very go omega watches od, his attitude wasn’t very good and the way he played wasn’t very good,” said MacLean.
But, as the coach acknowledges, Zibanejad did have injury problems, and his wisdom teeth removed in Binghamton. And then there was the natural adjustment period needed for a young European playing pro hockey in North America, on the smaller rinks, for the first time.
MacLean says the lockout was good for Zibanejad. It ensured he stared the season in Binghamton, under the guidance of coach Luke Richardson.
“Luke did a very good job with him, letting him know about the off ice part of being in the NHL and being dedicated to doing that,” said MacLean. “He accepted all that. He’s grown not only as a hockey player, but as a young man. I think he’s grown up quite a bit in the last eight months.”
So much, in fact, that the Senators have told him his AHL days are over.
Zibanejad and his girlfriend Nathalie moved into their own place one week before the Senators left on this trip. Previously, he had been staying with her family.
“I appreciate everything from them. It’s been very fun they’ve been with me this season,” said Zibanejad. “But it’s nice to be told (by the team) to get your own place.
“It’s kind of confirmation that you’re doing something right. I’ve just got to keep it going now. Now you know what you’re doing when you’re playing your best, when you’re playing like they want you to. It’s not easy, but it’s easier to kind of follow up with that.”
Some sort of birthday celebration is planned for Zi omega watches banejad’s 20th a week from Thursday. About 10 family members and friends will travel from Sweden and Atlanta for the occasion.
“I actually got to know about my buddy coming over,” he said, mischievously. “I haven’t seen him since a year ago. I saw the message, so I got on to that. I know they’re having a surprise for me, but I don’t know what it is. I’m kind of waiting for something but I don’t know what. I’m trying to mess with them, just to kind of mess their plans up. Obviously I want a surprise, but I kind of want to know.”
Meanwhile, any doubts about Zibanejad realizing his potential are disappearing. It will now be a surprise if he doesn’t turn into a very good hockey player. Probably even better than he is on Xbox, which isn’t good news for Lehner.