The Ottawa Senators have elected to return first-round pick Mika Zibanejad to his team in the Swedish Elite League.
Zibanejad, the sixth pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, had just 1 assist in nine games, and was a minus-3.
The Senators had until Thursday, which would have been Zibanejad's 10th game, to make a decision. Returning him to Djurgarden in Sweden delays the start of his three-year, entry-level contract. However, the Senators can't recall him until his European season is over, unless it's under emergency conditions.
"We think, for the long-term development of him, to give him the 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," Senators General Manager Bryan Murray told reporters today.
Murray said the decision came down to the determination that it would be better for Zibanejad to play a top-line role with Djurgarden then on the third line in Ottawa.
"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," he 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.
"From a selfish point of view, it was very difficult. We like him, he's a good man, he's a guy that will work hard and do everything the coaches ask every game. In turn, I think, from Mika's point of view, we want to have to pay him a lot of money in the future and that will only happen if he becomes, as I say, a legitimate top-six forward and creates offense."
Murray said coach Paul MacLean fought hard to keep Zibanejad, due in part to the player's size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), skill and defensive-zone ability. However, MacLean said he understood the decision.
"Nowhere is it what's best for Paul MacLean," he said. "It's what's best for the Ottawa Senators and this is the right decision."
Zibanejad said he was going to look at the decision as a positive.
"I really wanted to stay but I knew there was options to send me home," he said. "I was prepared for that and I was prepared to stay. I'm going home. It's sad, but on other hand it's a good thing for me.
"It's going to be a chance for me to improve my game."
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