Zibanejad makes strong case for promotion

Should Mika Zibanejad be rescued from the Siberia of the fourth line and installed on a top-six trio with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek?

Zibanejad makes strong case for promotion
Mika Zibanejad (93) of the Ottawa Senators scores on Josh Harding and the Minnesota Wild during first period of NHL action at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, November 20, 2013. (Jean Levac/Ottawa Citizen).

Should Mika Zibanejad be rescued from the Siberia of the fourth line and installed on a top-six trio with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek?

Based on his strong one-goal, one-assist night in Ottawa’s 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night, the answer would seem to be yes, certainly.

Whether coach Paul MacLean agrees, however, is another question.

With Spezza, Michalek, Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, and Clarke MacArthur in five of the top six forward spots, the search goes on for No. 6.

Colin Greening, the incumbent, can’t be long for his spot with Michalek and Spezza. He still doesn’t have a goal, has only three assists, and hasn’t had a point in 16 games, while averaging 13:03 in ice time.

The argument can be made that Greening’s there as a hard-working, veteran player who can be trusted, but at some point it has to be acknowledged that this is just not working.

That leaves, as MacLean said this week, Zibanejad and Cory Conacher fighting for the No. 6 spot.

Zibanejad, who is already among the team’s top six forwards in scoring, would seem to have the edge.

Both players have averaged the same amount of ice time — 12:56 for Zibanejad, 12:57 for Conacher — but Zibanejad has more points: Five goals and two assists in 14 games since being recalled from Binghamton, to two goals and two assists in 22 games for Conacher.

And against the Wild, Zibanejad was one of Ottawa’s few bright lights.

While he ended up playing 12:14, close to his average, he played just 5:30 over the first two periods.

That prompted many to question why MacLean wasn’t using him more.

But MacLean said he did indeed like Zibanejad’s game and that it improved his chances to move up in the depth chart, though the battle is far from won.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt (his chances),” said MacLean. “I thought Mika was good. I thought he had good energy and I thought he skated well.

“But I thought Cory Conacher was a pretty good player (Wednesday night), too.

“Both of them are making cases for themselves to play more, and I think that’s a good thing for our team.”

It’s a tricky situation for MacLean.

He has two young players — Conacher, a few weeks shy of his 24th birthday, and Zibanejad, five months away from his 21st — in the early years of their careers, with all that youth implies.

So far, they’ve demonstrated virtually no consistency — witness Zibanejad’s poor training camp, which, as a lesson, got him demoted to Binghamton. Trying to guess their performance from night-to-night is like flipping a coin.

That’s hardly a singular indictment, though. It can be said about the entire team.

In the main, though, Zibanejad’s reasonably satisfied with his play since being recalled from Binghamton.

“Good, but I feel I can do even better and more, skate with the puck a lot more and not stand still and try to make a play flat-footed,” he said.

“But I think the effort’s been there, the willingness to work has been there, and I’m just trying every day to get better.”

Asked if he believes he should be getting more ice time, Zibanejad is predictably diplomatic, though there’s not a player in the game who wants to play less.

“I try not to think about it too much,” he said. “I’ve been happy playing with (Derek Grant and Erik Condra), and feel like we’ve developed some chemistry in the last two games.

“But obviously you want to play as much as possible, and sometimes it’s hard to build chemistry with just a couple of shifts here and there.

“But it doesn’t matter who I play with. I just try to do my thing, and try to help the team to win.”

The Senators continue to have big hopes for Zibanejad, their first-round pick (sixth overall) in the 2011 draft. They’d like him to be one of their top centres, not a fourth-line winger.

He’s good enough to be a star in the AHL, so he has developed some. In six games with Binghamton before being recalled, he had a team-leading two goals and five assists.

But after his training camp, he has some work to do to earn back the trust of the management and the coaching staff.

He knows it, too. If the cliché that you’re only as good as your next shift applies to anyone, it applies to him.

“Obviously I just have to try to make the most of every shift I get,” he said. “I don’t know when the next shift is going to come, with who or where, so I’ve just got to take that one shift I get and make the most of it, and make sure (MacLean) puts me out there more. I don’t want to take anything for granted.

“I want to do anything I can to help the team win, and I’ve just got to keep going.”

Twitter.com/allenpanzeri2

Tags: ,

What do you think? Leave a comment