OTTAWA - The much-debated question of the day concerned Senators prospect Mika Zibanejad, his development and the world junior hockey championship:
Would it be best for the 19-year-old forward to represent his native Sweden again, or to remain in Binghamton and continue to learn the North American pro game?
Good arguments both ways, of course. Zibanejad scored the gold-medal-winning goal in the WJCís last Jan. 5, and playing in the high-level tournament again, this time in Russia, sure wouldnít hurt him.
On the other hand, Zibanejad is slowly progressing under B-Sens coach Luke Richardson, and at this rate he could challenge for a job in the NHL when the lockout ends. His chances, quite likely, would be better had he spent last season on this side of the ocean, in major junior hockey, too.
On Thursday, Ottawa decided Zibanejad isnít going anywhere.
ďOur opinion is that the best way to continue his progress towards becoming an impact player with the Senators is to spend the full season here,Ē GM Bryan Murray said in a statement.
What would Zibanejad have done if he was in Murrayís chair?
ďYouíre putting me in a really tough spot right now,Ē Zibanejad said with a laugh from Binghamton. ďI guess Iím happy I donít have to make that decision.
ďI donít know what I would do. Iím fully trusting (in the Senators) right now and Iím just respecting their decision. I know where Iím going to be at Christmas. It feels good.Ē
The Senators did ask Zibanejad for his input. And after hearing what they wanted to hear, they made the call they did.
ďItís always a big thing,Ē Zibanejad said of the tournament. ďEspecially because the world juniors are getting bigger every year back home. It was always a goal and a dream for me to play world juniors, ever since my brother (Monir Kalgoum) played there (almost a decade ago).
ďAt the same time, I have a contract with Ottawa and I pay close attention to what they have to say and I agree. I think itís good for me to stay here and get a full season in and not have to travel all the way to Russia and back just for two weeks or three weeks.
ďI had a really good experience at the world juniors last year. You want to make both (sides) happy, but thatís not possible. Right now, Iím just going after what Ottawa wants me to do.Ē
In 16 games for Binghamton, Zibanejad has one goal and six assists. The Senators like the direction his game is headed. So does he.
ďAbsolutely, I try to get just a little bit better every day and get used to everything around me,Ē said Zibanejad. ďAll the travel and the games, the three games in three days and everything, it takes time getting used to and I feel like Iím getting there. I think itís been really good so far and I enjoy playing here.
ďI knew this was one option, that Ottawa wouldnít let me go,Ē he added. ďI always had that in the back of my mind. It doesnít come as a shock. Now I get a good opportunity to focus on the team over here, making sure weíre winning games. Iím trying to help as much as I can.
ďI guess now that itís kind of clear whatís going to happen, itís easier for me to focus, too.Ē