OTTAWA – Mika Zibanejad travelled to Ottawa to see his girlfriend, but just in case he thought he’d bring his hockey equipment with him.
It turned out to be a smart move, as Zibanejad was called up by the Senators on Monday.
The Senators first selection, sixth overall, at the 2011 NHL draft, was in Ottawa enjoying a few days off due to the American Hockey League all-star break when he received a call saying the Senators wanted him at practice.
“I got the call this morning so it was nice,” Zibanejad said. “It was a bit surprising since I was on the break, but I’m just happy to be here now.”
Senators general manager Bryan Murray felt the timing was right for Senators coach Paul MacLean and his staff to get a look at Zibanejad, who had goals in three of his last five AHL games.
“He’s starting to play well,” Murray said. “I think he’s a guy that Paul will want to give a game or so to right now and find out a little more about him. As I say his speed and his size should be an asset for us.”
Simply getting the attention of the Senators can be seen as huge accomplishment for Zibanejad, who missed 18 straight games earlier this season with a number of health issues. He had complications with his wisdom teeth, had a throat virus and was then knocked out by a stomach flu.
While the Senators have always considered Zibanejad one of its prized prospects he wasn’t one of the seven players recalled by the Senators when the lockout was finally resolved and teams opened training camp.
Murray said Zibanejad would have received an invitation had he been healthy.
“He has that kind of ability that we would have wanted to do that,” Murray said.
Zibanejad wasn’t that surprised he didn’t get invited to training camp.
“I had just gotten back the weekend they got called up,” Zibanejad said. “I just focused on getting back out there and playing and getting my confidence up and start playing. That was the biggest thing for me back then. I feel more confident now.”
Zibanejad played nine games with the Senators to start the 2011-12 season, but with just one over that span point he was returned to the Djurgardens of the Swedish Elite League. Zibanejad became a national hero after scoring the winning goal against Russia in the gold medal game of the 2012 world junior championships.
This past season the Senators felt it was in Zibanejad’s best interest if he skipped the tournament, much to the ire of the Swedish Hockey Federation, in order for him to better develop his game on North American ice.
“I feel more comfortable now with the smaller ice and the work zones and everything,” said Zibanejad. “It’s starting to click.”
MacLean said he didn’t anticipate Zibanejad playing Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals at this point, but if Daniel Alfredsson, who missed Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, remains sidelined with the flu that could change.
“He’s been playing well in Binghamton and he’s on his all-star break and we have a roster spot,” said MacLean. “We want to take a look at Mika and see how he looks.”
Zibanejad has been playing both at centre and on the wing in Binghamton. For right now the Senators aren’t going to make any firm decisions as to where he’s better suited.
“Whether you’re a winger or a centreman when you’re a young player there’s still responsibilities for you to be in the right places, not so much offensively, but defensively,” MacLean said. “That falls on all of them at some point in time. They have to be in a position of responsibility defensively and the expectation is they will do a good job.”
Notes: G Craig Anderson will get the start against Washington.…Jason Spezza, Zack Smith and Erik Karlsson were all given the day off for maintenance.…Alfredsson missed practice due to the flu.