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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bruins 2011 Draft: The Case for Mika Zibanejad

The fifth in the series where Bruins 2011 Draft Watch focuses on the details of a specific player we see as worthy of gaining the attention of Boston fans given where the team is picking with the ninth overall selection.

This is the first case for post that has been done with Boston's draft position locked in at 9.

Dateline: X-Cel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota June 24, 2011

After looking like the team would possess a top-five pick for much of the 2010-11 hockey season, the Boston Bruins watched the Toronto Maple Leafs get hot in March and April to push that selection to ninth overall. Nobody knows if the B's make an attempt to trade up as the first eight players come off the board: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier, Ryan Strome, Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Murphy have all had their names called, the so-called 'Elite 8" has unfolded as anticipated, and Boston will have to look to the next tier to choose from.

When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces to the rest of the building that the Boston Bruins are now on the clock with the ninth overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the team wastes little time in moving to the stage to make their pick.

The Bruins, an organization that has seen its top center in Marc Savard's future placed in doubt as a result of a head hit from Matt Cooke in the spring of 2010. While the defense position appears to be an obvious need, so too, could be a legitimate scoring center with some size and bite.

No other player addresses this skill package quite as nicely as Swedish pivot Mika Zibanejad. (Zee-bahni-yad)

Boston Bruins organizational team and front office walk to the stage from their table, holding a Boston Bruins jersey with the digits "11" stitched onto on the back and sleeves. General Manager Peter Chiarelli takes the stage and walks to the podium to announce the pick.

After the initial pleasantries of thanking the city of Minneapolis/St. Paul and host Minnesota Wild, Chiarelli gets down to business.

"With the ninth pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins select, from the Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League...center Mika Zibanejad."

Mika Zibanejad, Center/Wing Djurgarden (Sweden Elitserien)


6-2 Weight: 192 Shoots: Right
Born: April 18, 1993 in Huddinge, Sweden

2010-11 Djurgarden (SEL) GP: 26 G: 5 A: 4 PTS: 9 PIM: 2

Born in Sweden of Iranian and Finnish parentage. Half-brother Monir Kalgoum, plays professional hockey in the UK for the Milton Keynes Lightning of the English Premier League. Started out in the Hammarby IF system (at age 6) until 2008 when he shifted to AIK IF after Hammarby went insolvent. Acquired by Djurgarden during the '09-10 season and broke through on the top pro squad in '10-11 after starting the year in the Under-20 junior ranks. A 2010 KHL draft pick of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Signed two-year contract with Djurgarden which will run through 2013 season. A final cut of the 2011 Swedish World Junior (Under 20) team. Earned a silver medal with the Swedish Under-18 squad in Germany, just 1:29 from beating the Americans for gold, leading the team in scoring with 8 points (4 goals) in six games (tied with Gustav Bjorklund). Speaks Swedish, English and Finnish.

Strengths:The best Europe-based forward prospect for 2011 and zooming up boards a legitimate power center option. Outstanding pivot with size, skating, sense, shot and spirit. Not a blazing fast skater, but has a fluid stride that will get more powerful as he gets stronger in his leg drive. Has very good edge control and leans into players, using his strength and power to go to the net. Has the ability to separate with breakway speed, but is more of a straight ahead player than a shifty, elusive one. Already plays a physical game and still has some growing and filling out to do. Willing and energetic hitter. Excellent puckhandler who sees the ice well, has soft hands and a quick, heavy shot. Knows how to find the soft areas of the offensive zone and isn't afraid to unload when the shooting lanes are there. Slick passer/playmaker as well. Plays with some fire and competitiveness- wants to be the best player on the ice and has some real swagger and personality. Good, solid defensive awareness. Not a stellar defensive player, but will backcheck and play responsibly in his own end. A kid who exudes personality, passion and determination- you can read it in his face and actions on the ice.

Here are some links to video of Zibanejad for evidence:

Here's a nice compilation video posted by our good friend (and Habs fan) Jerome B. at his NHL Draft Video blog

YouTube video of a big hit Zibanejad makes in the SEL on John Klingberg

Zibanejad owns Adam Larsson on this play. Unreal stutter-step to move by the top-ranked Euro for 2011

Steals the puck from behind and then converts it for a goal.

Weaknesses: Not many weaknesses to find in Zibanejad's game. Initial quickness and first step need to improve along with agility and footwork, but is a wide-base skater with solid technique and fundamentals, so he should be able to address this with speed/agility drills and off-ice plyometrics. Also has a bit of a temper- must learn to keep his emotions in check at times.

Style Compares to: Jeff Carter

Why the Bruins would pick Zibanejad: If a big-time defenseman like Ryan Murphy or Dougie Hamilton isn't available, then the choice might come down to Zibanejad and Nathan Beaulieu or Duncan Siemens. While both are accomplished defenders in their own right, they don't quite carry the same cachet with scouts and Zibanejad's upside could be the tipping point for the Bruins. Savard is a major issue for Boston right now- should he hang up the skates, then the team's depth and strength up the middle takes a hit. Additionally, Zibanejad is a versatile enough forward to play the wing if need be.

Why the Bruins would not pick Zibanejad: If Zibanejad is a surprise wildcard pick earlier than nine that would be the biggest obstacle, but beyond that, the B's have not spent a first-round pick on a European player since Hannu Toivonen in 2002. We know they have spent extensive time in Ontario this season, and it would lead one to believe that with the emphasis, they are looking hard at going OHL with their top pick. Whether they move to make that happen, can sit tight for the player they want to drop to them at nine, or are OK with going Euro in the top-10 remains to be seen.

What scouts/coaches are saying:

"Zibanejad is a high-end guy- he's a top-15 pick, no question. If he's there at nine, the Bruins have to consider him."- NHL scout to Bruins2011DraftWatch, April 2011

"Mika's a real power forward but also has soft hands, good vision and fine skating skills. He has tremendous balance and is hard to knock off the puck. He's very strong in the battles along the boards, finishes checks with authority and has a heavy shot that he gets off quickly."- NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb To read Mike G. Morreale's NHL.com article on Zibanejad click here

"Suffered due to playing on the wing with struggling (Victor) Rask who was unable to deliver the puck. Very good hands, receives tough passes well in stride. Makes saucer passes through traffic. Has vision and creativity- frankly is more natural at centre. Drives the net hard."- Red Line Report, March, 2011

"Continues to elevate his stock at this tournament as he has done for most of the season. Had an explosive game versus Norway and leads Team Sweden in scoring with four goals and seven points in four contests. Zibanejad has been a B2011DW favorite because he can skate and has good hands, but brings size and a high energy level with him to the ice. This is a kid who loves to play and never stops moving his feet. He goes hard to the net, does the honest work in the corners and loves to use the body. He's nowhere near as as strong as he will be, so it's encouraging to see how effective he is on the physical side of things already. The only real concerns with the Persian Prince (his father is Iranian) is whether his abilities will translate into a high-end scorer at the NHL level. Most think he has solid top-six forward potential, but that's what will see him earn a draft grade around or even inside the top-10."- Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; April, 2011

Zibanejad in his own words:

"I watch Sidney Crosby for the work he does at center. I watch Alex Ovechkin for the way he scores goals and I watch Pat Kane for the way he stickhandles. I'm not that type of guy to just look for the big hits. I try to play physical but that's only because I want the puck back. Sometimes you have to finish your checks on defensemen in order to tire them out."- Mika Zibanejad to NHL.com, March 2011

"I had the opportunity to play with some great players so that helped me in getting the points that I got. I felt I fit right in to playing on the smaller (North American) rinks, too."- Zibanejad to NHL.com, March 2011 (on World Under-17 Challenge experience)

Bust factor: Low; The "Persian Prince" (our special nod to him given his father's Iranian heritage) has the look of a legitimate NHL player because of his size, skill set and drive. The only real questions about him revolve around whether he can be the kind of productive top-2 center and special teams ace, but his play in Sweden's top league has done nothing to concern scouts. He smoked Adam Larsson on a breakaway play and when is on top of things, plays with the pure confidence and poise of a game-breaker.

The Verdict: If you are the kind of person who looks for those swing-for-the-fences type picks, then Zibanejad is up your alley. He plays more of a North American game, so his transition (when it happens) should not be a tough one. He's an intelligent kid who brings the kind of character and leadership attributes teams are looking to acquire. His body language speaks volumes- you can see how much he loves the game and how much he wants the puck on his stick in key situations even without a play-by-play (or in some cases broadcasts in Swedish). More important, he brings the kind of size and power game at the center position that the Bruins don't currently have on their team or in their system after 6-5 pivot Joe Colborne was traded to Toronto (though it has been pointed out to us that there isn't much power in Colborne's game, Boston's centers are short on size). Zibanejad makes all sorts of sense for Boston, but with the team being so Europe-averse in recent seasons, there is no telling if the organization values him as a prospect as much as we do.