'Right step' for Zibanejad

Mika Zibanejad is going back to Sweden to finish out his season after playing nine games for the...

Mika Zibanejad is going back to Sweden to finish out his season after playing nine games for the Senators. (Tony Caldwell/QMI Agency)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:55 PM ET

OTTAWA - Mika Zibanejad was the last one off the ice Wednesday after Senators practice at Scotiabank Place.

Not long after, he found out it would be his final NHL skate this season.

Zibanejad put on a brave face after GM Bryan Murray told the 18-year-old Swedish centre he was being sent back to Sweden.

It wasn’t surprising. The Senators’ first-round draft pick from June will play for Djurgarden IF, giving him a chance to get more seasoning before he returns next September.

The Senators were forced to make a decision before Zibanejad’s NHL contract officially kicked in if he played his 10th game of the season Thursday against Florida.

“It’s hard to say (if I was surprised). I wanted to stay, but I knew there were options to send me home,” said Zibanejad. “I was prepared for that and I was prepared to stay. I’m going home. It’s sad, but on other hand it’s a good thing for me.

“It’s going to be a chance for me to improve my game. I’m going to a place where I know the coach, my teammates and everything around. That’s my hometown so I’ll be comfortable and I can focus on improving my game. That’s really good for me.”

Zibanejad, who was still living in a hotel, was given every opportunity to impress by coach Paul MacLean, but had just one assist.

The Senators know he has more offensive potential than that and want to get his confidence back in the Swedish Elite League. He’ll also get a chance to play at the world juniors.

Murray said he felt Zibanejad was playing careful.

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

“It’s very difficult. (MacLean) played him 14 minutes (Tuesday). He’s a big, strong and a good-skating young man. We’re sending him back to have the puck, to have the chance to score points and to be a legitimate Top 6 NHL player.

“At 18, he was playing the last little bit to survive and not make mistakes, rather than be the creative kind of kid we want him to be. From a selfish point of view, it was very difficult. We like him. He’s a guy that would work hard and do everything the coaches would ask”

Before Zibanejad left, Murray asked captain Daniel Alfredsson to sit down with the youngster. Alfredsson said he agreed with the decision and felt that the uncertainty was weighing on Zibanejad the last few games.

“(These were) anxious days for him,” said Alfredsson. “He’s got a brilliant career ahead of him. He’s 18 years old. You play all the scenarios through your head.

“I think we made it tougher for (Zibanejad) with the way we started. He was thrown into the fire right away with some of the games that we had. If we got off to a better start, it’s a different story, I think. Overall, you see the potential and willingness to do well. He’s looking good.”

MacLean said this is the best case scenario for Zibanejad.

“We don’t want him to just be a third- or fourth line checker, we want him to be a front-line player.”


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