Draft Profile: Mika Zibanejad
His background might be tough to figure out, but his status as a top prospect is not.
Given Mika Zibanejad’s combination of Finnish and Iranian names and heritage (he has one parent from each country), one probably wouldn’t guess that he’s actually Swedish. However, that’s where he was born, raised and most recently played, having suited up for Djurgarden of his country’s elite league last season.
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As is the case with the earlier-profiled Jonas Brodin and a host of other draft-eligible players on good teams in the top European leagues, Zibanejad’s point totals (9 points in 26 games) are underwhelming due to limited ice time. In his case, scouts are more impressed by how he handled himself as a well-developed, 6-foot-2, 191-pound power forward playing against experienced older players.
“For a high-skill player who plays on the perimeter to be able to play in an elite league is one thing, but it’s rare for a power-forward type to be able to do that at a young age,” said Jason Karmanos, vice president and assistant general manager of the Hurricanes. “To be able to play that style of game against players that are on average 10 years older than him says a lot about his hockey sense, confidence and the overall skill level he brings to the table.
“Strength-wise you don’t even notice that he was a 17-year-old, and that’s impressive.”
Scouts consider Zibanejad, the NHL Central Scouting Service’s No. 2 ranked European skater, as a two-position player who could end up at either center or the wing. If used in the latter, he could resemble a young Erik Cole, who shares many of the same descriptions, including stature.
“The best thing about him is that he skates so well and is a very strong man,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “He’s got strength, speed and takes the puck to the net. He is not a fun guy to play against.”
Although his point totals in international play and for Djurgarden’s junior team have shown that he can score against players closer to his own age, Zibanejad didn’t get the chance to fully showcase his skills at the World Under-18 Championship in April as he played through an injury. However, he still netted 8 points (4g, 4a) in eight games to tie for his team’s scoring lead.
“He was still one of the best forwards on the Swedish team,” said MacDonald.
Based on what he was able to do in his domestic league, those considering Zibanejad as a draft pick are hopeful that he could be ready to join their organization sooner rather than later. In addition being more physically developed than most in his draft class, his strong command of the English language and universal smarts make him one of the most NHL-ready players available this season.
“He plays an NHL-style game right now,” said MacDonald. “He’s probably capable of jumping right in because he’s played with men. He’s probably prepared to play now both mentally and physically.”
“He’s just a good, honest, hard-working player who has skill, speed and power to his game,” said Karmanos. “He’s the type of player that you need no matter what decade you’re playing in.”