2011 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits

6th overall pick Mika Zibanejad signs entry-level deal with Ottawa

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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?

Video: Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have spoken out against a late, high hit that Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik threw on Olli Maatta early in the first period of an eventful Game 2 on Saturday.

Maatta left and didn’t return. He played only 31 seconds, and the Penguins were reduced to five defensemen for a large portion of the game. Orpik was given a minor penalty on the play, but the league’s Department of Player Safety may see it differently.

The hit occurred well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck. He struggled on his way to the dressing room for further evaluation.

Based on multiple reports, Orpik wasn’t made available to the media following the game, which went to the Penguins as they earned the split on the road.

But the Penguins have taken issue with the hit.

“I thought it was a late hit,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

Game on: Penguins even series with rival Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins will head back home with a split of their second-round series with the rival Washington Capitals.

Former Capitals forward Eric Fehr came back to burn his hold team, as he scored with under five minutes remaining in regulation to help lift the Penguins over Washington with a 2-1 victory in an eventful Game 2 on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin threw the puck toward the net and Fehr was able to re-direct it by Braden Holtby.

Oh, this was an eventful game, indeed.

It started early in the first period with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik catching Penguins blue liner Olli Maatta with a late and high hit that warranted — at least for now — only a minor penalty for interference. Maatta, clearly in distress following the hit, didn’t play another shift and saw only 31 seconds of ice time in total, as Pittsburgh was reduced to five defensemen for the remainder of the game.

It continued in the third period. Kris Letang was furious after getting called for a trip on Justin Williams, and even more ticked off when the Capitals tied the game on the ensuing power play.

For two periods, the Capitals couldn’t get much going. Only four of their players had registered a shot on goal through 40 minutes, while the Penguins held the edge in that department and held the lead.

Washington came out with more jump in the third period, testing rookie netminder Matt Murray with 14 shots in the final 20 minutes. But the Penguins got the late goal to break the deadlock.

Video: Penguins’ Letang was furious after Capitals tie up Game 2 with power play goal

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Kris Letang watched from the penalty box as the Washington Capitals tied up Game 2 with a power play goal in the third period. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman was called for tripping after he appeared to muscle Justin Williams off the puck as he entered the zone.

Letang let his disagreement with the call be known at the time, and was furious after the Capitals capitalized on a goal from Marcus Johansson.

The Capitals started the period down a goal and being outshot 28-10 by the Penguins, who need a win to even the series.

Also, it seems this is worth mentioning:

Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.