It wasn't the decision Mika Zibanejad was hoping for, but one he accepted with grace.
The Ottawa Senators sent their 2011 first-round draft pick back to Swedish club team Djurgardens on Wednesday rather than burn the first year of his entry-level contract.
Zibanejad appeared in nine games for the Senators this season, registering one assist and a minus-3 rating. A tenth game with Ottawa would have meant the 18-year-old was sticking in the NHL.
“I really wanted to stay but they have more experience in this stuff than I do,” said Zibanejad, who was taken sixth overall at June's draft. “I think this is best for me and I'm excited to go back home.”
The Stockholm native played his ninth and final game with the Senators on Tuesday night in Carolina.
Ottawa can't recall him until his European season is over, unless it's under emergency circumstances.
Djurgardens has assured the Senators that Zibanejad will play a crucial role with the team, including first-line minutes and power play time.
“He might not reach that status with our team this year,” said Senators general manager Bryan Murray, adding the decision was a difficult one.
“We think for the long term development of him, to give him an opportunity to become what we believe he has a chance to become, and that is a quality NHL player, that this is the right step for him at this moment.”
The Senators see great potential in Zibanejad and want to ensure his development progresses.
“I think the reason we're probably sending him back is that we want him to have the puck, we want him to have a chance to score points, to be a legitimate top-six NHL player,” Murray said. “I think at 18 years of age, he was playing the last little bit to survive and not make mistakes, rather than be a creative kind of kid that we think he'll turn out to be.”
While he would have enjoyed the opportunity to play with the Senators, Zibanejad is looking at the decision as an opportunity for personal growth.
“I guess I get a bigger role back home and I feel comfortable with the game and I feel comfortable with everything outside the ice and just focusing on improving my game and improving all those small details that I have to do to make the team next year,” he said. “It's sad, but on the other hand it's a good thing for me and a good option for me to improve my game.”
Zibanejad will also now be eligible to represent his country at the world junior hockey championship in Alberta this winter.
Meanwhile, the Senators (4-5-0) will look to extend their winning streak to four games Thursday when they host the Florida Panthers (5-3-0).
It's been quite a turnaround for the Senators, who just last week were dealing with an embarrassing 7-2 home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Part of Ottawa's improved play can be attributed to the power play, which is currently ranked No. 1 in the league. Ottawa is 10-for-32 with the man advantage this year.
Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek have also had great starts to the campaign, combining for 12 points in the last three games.
Spezza has three goals and four assists, while Michalek has three goals and two assists. Colin Greening, who completes the trio, has also played well in giving the Senators a solid first line.
On the downside, Ottawa's penalty kill sits 29th in the league with 13 goals allowed in 43 chances.