Senators practice update: Zibanejad gets top-line look

The Ottawa Senators have been giving their first round pick in 2011, Mika Zibanejad, a lot of looks at practice this week, gearing up for their playoff series against the New York Rangers.

BY MATT MARIANI

The Ottawa Senators have been giving their first round pick in 2011, Mika Zibanejad, a lot of looks at practice this week, gearing up for their playoff series against the New York Rangers.

Head coach Paul MacLean and his coaching staff raised some eyebrows at Tuesday’s practice at Scotiabank Place, placing Zibanejad on the wing on the top line along with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.

“We wanted to see how he’s doing now that his season in Sweden is over,” said MacLean. “We wanted to give him the opportunity to play with our best guys and see how he looks. We wanted to see how he has progressed.”

The young Swede was surprised as much as anyone when he was moved on the top line during practice, however.

“It was fun,” said Zibanejad. “We’ll see what happens. I’ll take it day-by-day. I’m just doing what the coaches are telling me to do.”

“I’ve heard so much about the playoffs, you want to be a part of it,” added Zibanejad. “I’m here to work hard and to just make sure I’m ready if the opportunity comes up.”

Zibanejad played in the Senators’ opening nine games of the season, so pulling on the Sens jersey just one more game will burn a year off his entry level contract.

This won’t come as an easy decision for management. There is also skepticism that throwing a young player into the high intensity of a playoff game will be taking a step back in his development. However, general manager Bryan Murray and MacLean wants to give the team the best possible chance of winning and won’t hesitate to use the 19-year-old forward.

“If we feel like we can use him, we aren’t going to be afraid to use him,” said MacLean. “I think right now he’s going to go to Binghamton and play this weekend and he can be available to us once their season is over.”

The team knows what the young star can bring to the team, and if given the opportunity they are confident he can contribute.

“If he’s ready to play, I think a lot of guys would like that opportunity to play,” said MacLean. “I feel like his teammates, if they feel he would give them a better opportunity, would want him to play too.

Zibanejad is scheduled to report to Binghamton to play AHL games on Friday and Saturday, which would rule him out for the opening two games of the Senators’ playoff series against the Rangers.

The latest Senator to go down with an injury during practice was Jim O’Brien. He took a puck off the hand during a drill and will be evaluated tomorrow.

Matt Carkner missed practice for the second straight day with a lower body injury, but is expected to resume practicing with the team again Wednesday.

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