Unless the NHL lockout has completely turned you off on the prospect of following the sport, in which case I would question why you are here reading this blog in the first place, you have inevitably noticed that through his first 13 games, Mika Zibanejad is off to an underwhelming start in the AHL.
Mercifully, he tallied his first goal on Friday, but with that one goal, five points and a -4 to his name, the highest Senators draft pick since Jason Spezza, is not exactly instilling confidence in a fan base that is counting heavily upon Mika and the rest of the organization’s ballyhooed pipeline.
If there was NHL hockey to divert our attention or had the lack of production occurred during any other stretch of games that did not coincide with the start of the season (when his boxcar numbers remain small), it's likely these "struggles" would be a lot less significant or at the very least, would not lend themselves to the short-sighted revisionism that some are sure to engage in.
As fans, we have this Dustin Byfuglien-sized appetite to want or even demand that our prospects reach their ceilings as players.
Even with the staunch defense of Zibanejad’s all-around play and adjustment to the North American game from his head coach and teammates, until the results start appearing more consistently, the criticism and handwringing will continue.
This is the product of where he was selected and the expectations that follow.
Recently, I blew the dust off of the comprehensive spreadsheet that I amassed last season as I was trying to develop a baseline for: a) how productive players were in the first three years of their ELC; and b) contrasting the production of players who began their ELC years at different ages.
By examining the production of current NHL players, I examined the data and arrived at the conclusion that it would be in the Senators best interests to have Zibanejad develop for another year in Sweden rather than have him play in more than 9 games and burn off the first year of his ELC. (Scott leaned in a similar direction after looking at league equivalencies last fall)
Going back over the numbers now, a few things jump out at me (and keep in mind, these numbers do not include last season’s rookies):
Of those drafted between 6-10 overall who entered the league one season after their draft year; on average produced 65GP, 11.5G and 29.4PTS.
Much like Mika who will not turn 20 until April 18th, 2013; the average production of 19-year-olds who were held back one season is 57.5GP, 10.7G and 26.6PTS. Furthermore, of those 19 year olds drafted between 6-10 overall; they produced on average 77GP, 12.4G and 34.8PTS.
All that to say – you don't exactly need quantitative evidence to support the argument that 19-year-old hockey players tend to take time to develop. It’s common fucking sense.
Sure, we'd all like to see more points (imagine the whole roster would), but his shooting percentage is a paltry 2.9%. As a player who is still generating shots – he is averaging 2.69 per game – should his shooting percentage regress to the mean, it will help quell whatever concerns there may be…
… I mean, until he struggles again. Then lather. rinse. repeat.
Other News of Pithy Importance
– Yesterday the Senators officially acknowledged that Jared Cowen had surgery in New York on Saturday to repair a torn labrum in his hip. Amazingly, they even addressed a timetable for his recovery – pegging a potential return at 6-8 months and effectively ending any hopes of him playing again during the 2012/13 season. Here is audio of Murray discussing Cowen’s injury:
– Admittedly, I’ve been enjoying Aedan Helmer’s features in the Ottawa Sun on some of the Senators’ junior hockey prospects. In his most recent account featuring Stefan Noesen, whose Plymouth Whalers played in Ottawa this past weekend, I cringed when reading the comparison to Mike Fisher.
Granted, it’s not like he’s comparing Stephane Da Costa to Adam Oates and yes, I recognize that there is the causal link that is between Fisher and the first round draft selection that the Senators used to net Noesen, but why needlessly raise the expectations of a fan base and the casual fans who may use said comps as something to judge Noesen against? Hadn't we already agreed Noesen is the next Corey Perry? Let's not confuse things gang.
– Yesterday the Sens Foundation announced that it would partner with the City of Ottawa to revitalize Jules Morin Park in lowertown as part of its Recreation Investments in Neighborhood Communities (RINC) Project.