Keep Zibanejad ... at Alfredsson's house

Senators Mika Zibanejad during the practice in Ottawa, Ont., Oct. 21, 2011. (TONY CALDWELL/QMI...

Senators Mika Zibanejad during the practice in Ottawa, Ont., Oct. 21, 2011. (TONY CALDWELL/QMI Agency)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:04 AM ET

RALEIGH - Its checkout time for Mika Zibanejad.

Time for him to get out of the Ottawa hotel hes lived in for the last two months. Time for the Senators to settle up on the bill and send him to a good Swedish home, where he can enjoy home cooked meals and do some growing.

But no, not the good Swedish home that belongs to his good Swedish parents, in Sweden.

The good Swedish home that belongs to Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a short drive from Scotiabank Place.

Assuming the lovely Birgitta Alfredsson would take in another teenager, as she did when her husband brought Erik Karlsson home two years ago, that is.

Point is, this is where Zibanejad belongs. And thats the decision needed to be made now.

When the Senators return from North Carolina, the teams No. 1 draft choice from four months ago will have played his ninth game. Management and the coaching staff must choose whether to allow him a 10th which would kickstart the first year of his contract and thus keep Zibanejad in Ottawa for the season or return him to his team in the Swedish Elite League.

It might be a telling sign that Bryan Murray has already had conversations with officials from Djurgardens IF Stockholm.

He would be a first-line player back there, Ive been assured of that, said Murray. That he would play power play and do all the things that good players do on a hockey team.

But he would also be playing in Sweden, again, on a bigger ice surface and with a softer schedule. That doesnt get him as NHL-ready as playing in the NHL would. Ideally, the Senators could put Zibanejad on a major junior team, or in Binghamton, but thats not permitted as he is 18 years old and has a contract with Djurgardens. If hes going anywhere, hes going there.

So he really shouldnt be going anywhere.

Yes, Zibanejad has looked out of place at times. He has no goals and one assist in eight games. He has a minus-3 rating. Coach Paul MacLean likes the way he plays defensively, but has noted that Zibanejad has not handled the puck like he can, has had difficulty keeping up to the pace in the best league in the world.

But the kid has also had lots on his mind including daily reminders of his situation by the media.

Theres a lot of pressure on him leading up to the nine-game mark, said Jason Spezza, who went through something similar a decade ago. Its tough for him. Whether they decide to keep him or let him go, hell feel much better once the nine games are over. Hell be able to kind of relax and play. Hes a good hockey player. Whether he plays a full year this year or not, hes going to be a great player in the league. Hes doing a good job of handling it. Its not easy to ask of a 30-year- old guy, let alone an 18-year old guy to talk to the media every day. Hes doing a good job of it. I think it would be good to see him just worry about his game and not the outside stuff.

Said MacLean: I think its been a bit of distraction for him, the last four or five games. Hes a young player. He wants to play here. He wants to do his best out there. But as a young player, you can get distracted by something, especially something as big as this is for him.

He wants to play in the league and I believe hes good enough to play in the league. But were going to make the decision after some lengthy conversations and make the best decision we can make for Mika, for down the road. Were building a foundation for down the road, and hes obviously going to be a part of that puzzle.

Zibanejad is fast and skilled. Hes a Swedish Tyler Seguin, with the potential to be much more physical. Seguins development wasnt hindered by spending last season as an 18-year-old Boston Bruin, was it? Seguin stepped up as their best forward at one point in the playoffs, and hes been their best forward to start this season.

And dont get going with that stuff about Zibanejad being affected negatively by playing on a losing team. Thats not even real. Its a notion. Whats real is that here, Zibanejad will be practising with real NHL players, playing against NHL players, learning how to play in the NHL.

In Sweden, hell continue learning how to be come a European hockey player.

I dont know that hes absolutely NHL ready at the moment, said Murray. I believe this of young people though, as they play games, they get better, they get more comfortable. they get more confidence, they get a position on the team that allows them to play at the level they want to play at. So the decision is whats best for him, rather than whats best for us, at this very moment.

And whats best for Zibanejad is a reservation at Chez Alfredsson.


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