Mika Zibanejad has no intention of taking anything for granted.
The Ottawa Senators recalled the 20-year-old from Binghamton of the American Hockey League Tuesday and he knows he has a lot to prove if he intends on staying in Ottawa.
Zibanejad had been expected to make the team out of camp, but after failing to live up to expectations was returned to the AHL.
The demotion was surprising considering how well Zibanejad had played last season, but in some ways the Senators felt the young prospect allowed himself to become too complacent.
At the end of training camp Senators general manager Bryan Murray said, “The other guys stepped up way above him in camp, and he didn’t do anything about it.” Zibanejad was told his level of play allowed two others players to steal his job.
Harsh words, but they resonated with Zibanejad.
“You don’t want to take anything for granted, but I was hoping to build off the things I did last year and the season I came from,” said Zibanejad. “To get that message and reaction from them was an eye-opener for me, but apparently it was a good thing and I feel like I’m back on track and where I’m supposed to be at so hopefully I can just keep going here.”
After being sent down Zibanejad was determined to prove he belonged in the NHL.
“When something like that happens you want to prove them wrong, but I tried not to think about it too much. I thought about playing hard and doing the stuff they wanted me to work on. I hope I took it the right way.”
Through Binghamton’s first six regular-season games Zibanejad has two goals and five assists to lead the team in scoring. Last season the 6’2“, 211-pound native of Huddinge, Sweden, finished fourth among Senators in scoring with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 42 regular-season games with Ottawa.
“I had a pretty good talk with Luke (Richardson) when I got there the first day,” said Zibanejad, referring to the former NHLer who now coaches Binghamton. “He understood the situation and he helped me a lot through this time and his message was to play and not worry about it too much. All I can control is my play and how I react to it and I think that helps a lot that you get that talk and that confidence from him.”
Zibanejad was recalled as a precaution as Jean-Gabriel Pageau has a minor injury and the Senators didn’t want to find themselves short-handed as they prepare to face the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.
It appears Zibanejad will centre the fourth line between Derek Grant and Erik Condra if line combinations from Tuesday’s practice are any indication.
While MacLean wouldn’t confirm that Zibanejad would play Wednesday he did say they were considering it and when asked what the young centre needed to do to earn playing time MacLean was clear.
“He has to play good,” said MacLean. “We made the call down there and said who’s the best player and they said it was Mika. Before that it was Derek Grant. Mika’s been their best player and now we want him to come up and play with speed, play with energy, use his size and shoot the puck and just do the things that he does to be successful and if he does those things consistently he can stay in the lineup and ultimately in the National Hockey League.”
Zibanejad feels he’s benefited from his time in Binghamton and is hopeful he can find similar success in the NHL.
“I hope I built something down in Binghamton and I just have to keep building on it,” said Zibanejad. “Keep shooting, keep skating and competing hard. I think that was the biggest message going down was compete and be hard on the puck and play like I can and I should and I think I did that and I’m ready to take it to the next level.”