With news that Mika Zibanejad was sent back to Sweden rather than staying with the Ottawa Senators, there were conflicting feelings in the nation’s capital whether this was the right decision or not. Based on the Senators current situation, many feel that this team of young guys with nothing to lose by keeping him up. There are many others though who feel the same way I do: the Senators are doing the best thing they can do for their 18 year old prospect.
There are very few 18 year olds who have played in the NHL and made an impact in their first season. Obviously, every 18 year old is not Sidney Crosby. And the debates coaches and media go through on whether a player should stay up or be sent down around the 10 game mark are, frankly, annoying. How can you possibly be debating after rookie camp, training camp, pre-season AND nine games on whether a player is worthwhile to keep up or send down?
I think that if you’re debating it, then send the player down. You’re not doing the players ANY favours by having them warm the bench or yawning from the press box. In the past two drafts (2009 & 2010), only four players drafted in the top 10 from each draft have played more than 10 games. Last year was Taylor Hall (EDM), Tyler Seguin (BOS), Jeff Skinner (CAR) and Alexander Burmistrov (ATL/WPG). In 2009, this was John Tavares (NYI), Victor Hedman (TBL). Matt Duchene (COL), and Evander Kane (ATL/WPG). Only Jeff Skinner and John Tavares played all 82 games of the regular season.
Some of these players would have benefitted from being sent down. Burmistrov had 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in 74 games played, and was scratched for the remainder. Tyler Seguin is one who some use as an example of someone who was beneficial in staying with Boston, especially since they won the Stanley Cup. However Seguin was scratched for 8 regular season games, and put up 22 points in those games, and only played 13 of the 24 games Boston played in the playoffs. He had 7 points in those games, which made an impact, but not enough for him to play all the games. Seguin would have led team Canada at the World Juniors, and possibly even carried the Plymouth Whalers deep in the playoffs (especially after being named league MVP the year before). He would have learned how to be an impact leader and first line centre amongst his peers, rather than learning how to perform spot-duty in the NHL.
If a player is drafted to be a first line player, as most first round players are, why not have them play and develop in the farm system until they are ready to do this on your team? In Zibanejad’s case, he was playing less than 15 minutes a game on the third line. By going to Sweden, he can play on their first and/or second lines and tear it up there, or develop more in that position so when he comes back to Ottawa he can contribute to the team in the way he is expected to. Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are playing on Edmonton’s first line, and contributing the way Edmonton’s coaches and GMs expect of them, so it makes sense to develop them in the position and role where they are ultimately projected to thrive. But if coaches are questioning whether a player is ready, he generally isn’t.