Senators send Zibanejad back to Sweden

After some agonizing behind-the-scenes discussions, the Ottawa Senators have decided to send 18-year-old rookie forward Mika Zibanejad back to his Swedish Elite League team for the rest of the season.

Senators send Zibanejad back to Sweden
Kyle Turris #7 of the Ottawa Senators scores during the shootout against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

After some agonizing behind-the-scenes discussions, the Ottawa Senators have decided to send 18-year-old rookie forward Mika Zibanejad back to his Swedish Elite League team for the rest of the season.

Zibanejad has played nine games for the Senators this season, the maximum before the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in.

Rather than burn that time and have Zibanejad play a third-line role in the NHL, general manager Bryan Murray told reporters it would be better for the youngster to develop his game back home.

“We think, for the long-term development of him, to give him the opportunity to become what we believe he has a chance to become, and that is a quality NHL player, that this is the right step for him at this moment,” Murray said.

It was clear over the past week or so that coach Paul MacLean was leaning towards keeping Zibanejad here, while management felt he’d be better served playing a top-line role with plenty of power play time overseas.

Murray said MacLean, who has called Zibanejad “an NHL player” several times, was the toughest person to convince.

“I think the reason we’re probably sending him back is that we want him to have the puck, we want him to have a chance to score points, to be a legitimate top-six NHL player,” Murray explained. “I think at 18 years of age, he was playing the last little bit to survive and not make mistakes, rather than be a creative kind of kid that we think he’ll turn out to be.

“From a selfish point of view, it was very difficult,” Murray continued. “We like him, he’s a good man, he’s a guy that will work hard and do everything the coaches ask every game. In turn I think, from Mika’s point of view, we want to have to pay him a lot of money in the future and that will only happen if he becomes, as I say, a legitimate top-six forward and creates offence.”

While the coaching staff was impressed with Zibanejad’s size, strength, speed and ability to play in his own end, his lack of scoring is probably what did him in. Zibanejad had a stellar pre-season, only to post a single assist in the first nine games at the NHL level.

MacLean admitted he wanted to help mold Zibanejad into the type of player the Senators are looking for, but ultimately agreed with the decision.

“Nowhere is it what’s best for Paul MacLean, it’s what’s best for the Ottawa Senators and this is the right decision,” he said.

Murray said he asked Daniel Alfredsson, who agreed with the decision, to have a chat with the young Swede before leaving the rink.

Zibanejad will play for Djurgardens of the Swedish Elite League and will likely be on Sweden’s roster when the World Juniors roll around in December.

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Other updates from Senators practice Wednesday:

Bobby Butler (groin) has been cleared to practice with the team.

Centre Peter Regin’s shoulder injury appears to be quite serious. He is getting multiple opinions from different doctors and hasn’t made a decision on how to proceed. Sounds like surgery is not off the table.

Craig Anderson will start in goal Thursday night against the Florida Panthers.

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