Placing Zibanejad

I missed it yesterday, but there was an interesting nugget captured within Don Brennan’s article on whether we can expect Bryan Murray to make more moves this offseason.

Rather than sign an experienced veteran player like Jaromir Jagr, the club will forego a trade or free agency and allow one of its internal candidates to fill the void created by Daniel Alfredsson’s decision to sign with Detroit on the team’s second line right wing.

Brennan goes on to list a number of internal candidates like Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman as possibilities for the role, but interestingly, the one target he zeroed in on (and really, the one that would make the most sense in the interim) did not receive the warm consideration that one would have expected from the Senators’ GM.

Rather than playing him in the top six, Murray suggested that the organization may benefit more by having Mika Zibanejad develop his game at center.

"We'll talk to (coach) Paul (MacLean) later in the summer about that," he said. "The kid's such a good skater and so powerful, if we could get him to really develop in the middle, we could have a real dynamic centre for a lot of years here."

With Jason Spezza, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Kyle Turris and Zack Smith already in the fold, the Senators already have a wealth of depth at the position, so the question becomes, ‘If Zibanejad lines up down the middle, who gets pushed out?’

Many have seen the bandied about Smith for Ales Hemsky rumours being bandied about on the interwebs, but with the Senators crying poor to Ottawa City Council, the idea or likelihood of the team going out and taking on Hemsky’s salary seems farfetched.

If true to their word, moving Zibanejad back to his natural position would be diametrically opposed to the approach that the organization took last season.

Bryan Murray in September 2012:

"Because of the type of player he is, he would be an effective player on the wing, He seems to be able to play there, with both the world junior team and in Swedish Elite League, and the left side might be a need."

And when Binghamton’s training camp in the fall of 2012 was wrapping up, Randy Lee chimed in on what’s best for Mika’s development.

“The best thing (for Zibanejad) is opportunity,” said Randy Lee, the club’s director of player development. “You want to put a guy with that skill set on your top two lines. To design this team, you’re better off to put him on the left side and give him more opportunity to play on the top two lines. If he can make that adjustment here, then that’s going to make him a better player at that top level.”

So why wouldn’t Ottawa want that skill on one of their top two lines?

Well, maybe Murray is just trying to downplay his hand in an effort not to create more leverage in trade negotiations – maybe after today’s David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi and a second rounder trade, the Oilers may be more amenable to moving Hemsky. Or maybe it’s just that they feel compelled to find out what they acquired at last year’s deadline in Cory Conacher. Or it could be possible that the organization feels that its strength within the system is its depth on the wings, so there’s no need to limit itself by having their best prospect Zibanejad there. Or perhaps the organization is simply willing to take the short-term pains by letting Mika develop as a pivot, so that he provides the organization some flexibility or insurance down the road in the event that Jason Spezza does not re-up with the organization and walks as a free agent at the conclusion of the 2014/15 season.

There are a number of reasons why it makes sense to develop Ziba at center and from the sounds of it, the organization seems to have the long-term interests of the prospect and the team at the forefront.

When that is the rationale, who can complain?

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