The Ottawa Senators came to terms with their first round selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Mika Zibanejad on Wednesday. The three year entry-level deal comes with a $1,775,000 cap hit per season. For the 18-year-old, he’ll head back to Sweden to continue his training before he joins the Senators for their preseason training camp in September. From there, the Senators will give the first round pick every opportunity to make the team to start the season.
The timing of the signing is interesting as the team was up against a July 15th deadline to sign the Swedish Elite League prospect. As The 6th Sens pointed out, Ottawa would have been forced to pay an extra $100,000 if they waited until after the 15th; and if they couldn’t sign him by August 15th, he would be guaranteed to play in Sweden next season. They avoided the potential mess entirely by signing him while he was in North American for Ottawa’s prospects/development camp.
Moving forward, Senators GM Bryan Murray was asked whether Zibanejad will be ready to make the jump next season:
“In July, probably not,” Murray said. “In September, hopefully. He has a little time here. There’ll be an adjustment and I think when you see a whole group of young people competing, it will be quite different when they come to training camp — they’ll get playing with veteran players and we’ll get a better comparison.”
The Senators had three first round picks in June, but only Zibanejad has a serious shot of making the team for the 2011-12 season. Both Stefan Noesen (#21 overall) and Matt Puempel (#24 overall) are expected to return to the Ontario Hockey League to continue to develop their overall games. Zibanejad, on the other hand, has been touted as one of the most NHL-ready players in the 2011 Draft. The 6’2, 191 pound center has already played amongst men in the Swedish Elite League and throughout the second half of the season proved that he belonged with the big boys. Ottawa will either give him a shot to show what he can do in the NHL or allow him to continue his development with Djurgarden in the SEL.
For his part, Zibanejad sounds like he has a healthy mix of excitement and perspective going forward:
“I’m excited. It’s a dream coming true, for sure. You’ve always been dreaming (since you were younger) and you always have a goal to make it to the NHL. I think I’m one step closer, but there’s so much hard work left.
“I’ll try to do everything I can to make the team and help the Ottawa Senators win the Stanley Cup someday. It’s very exciting and I’m really happy.”
One of the biggest determining factors for Zibanejad next season may have nothing to do with the player at all. On paper, the Senators look like they could be in for a rough season. Do they want to “waste” an expensive year on his entry-level deal as he goes through some growing pains on a team that isn’t expected to make the playoffs? Or would he organization rather have him develop his skills and grow into his body in Sweden where they’d still maintain all three years on his first contract?
It’s a part of the business that has become increasingly important as teams are forced to maximize every penny in the salary cap era. Would they rather have him next season on a struggling team for less than $2 million or would they rather have him for the same price in four years as the Senators try to put all of their young pieces together? These are the decisions that GMs like Bryan Murray are forced to deal with these days.
For today, fans in Ottawa can celebrate an exciting prospect putting his name on the dotted line. Can we just fast-forward to September to see what the guy can do?