With the announcement that Kyle Turris would be out indefinitely on the day of the trade deadline, there is a hole in the Senators’ lineup at the centre position. With Turris out, the lines will have to shift around to fill up the middle, such as Curtis Lazar going back to his natural position after playing most of the season on the wing, or other youngsters such as Ryan Dzingel and Jean-Gabriel Pageau taking up a more prominent role. Zack Smith has spent some time on the wing higher in the lineup, and he may need to move back down as a fourth-line centre, especially when Clarke MacCarthur returns.
However, the biggest opportunity will lie with Mika Zibanejad, who recently set a Senators record for scoring the quickest natural hat trick that took only 2:38 and won the game against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. Drafted 6th overall back in 2011, there are high expectations for him to be able to take the reins offensively, preferably sooner rather than later. In his draft year, the projection on him was as a very good second-line centre at the very least. Although he has filled that role well at times, management hopes to see him take it one step further.
So far, it has been Pageau that has been the more consistent and relied upon centre, as he plays alongside Zack Smith and Mark Stone. Zibanejad can build upon his hat trick playing in between Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan, but it will be up to him to be the catalyst for that line.
“I want to step up my game, with or without [Turris],” said Zibanejad. “I know what I have to do, but obviously with him gone, I need to add a little more. I have been struggling as well. Hopefully I get some momentum going and get a little more confidence in myself and my shot.”
Will Zibanejad Meet Expectations?
While he generally starts off the seasons slowly – he only scored two goals in his first 19 games this season – he has scored at a steadier rate since then. Ottawa hopes that with Turris missing, Zibanejad can take the next step in his development and show that he can be a number one centre on the team. His offensive output has been steadily increasing during the past three seasons, and his defensive game has been consistent.
If he can become a strong two-way centre who contributes around 20 goals and 50 points per year, the Senators should be very happy. He will find success by playing hard around the net and on the cycle, in the style of David Backes. Both players are only an inch in height and a pound in weight apart, based on their NHL.com profiles. Zibanejad is 6’2” and 222 lbs while Backes is 6’3” and 221 lbs. They both play a heavy game and have good hands around the net. It will be up to the Ottawa forward to try to make his way to elite status.