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Senators want Zibanejad to keep it simple in debut

by Brian Hedger /
DETROIT -- Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean has given 18-year old Swedish rookie center Mika Zibanejad some fairly simple advice heading into Friday's season-opener against the Detroit Red Wings.

"Mika's looking forward to it," MacLean said. "I'd just tell him to breathe. Make sure you breathe, because that's an important part of it. Continue to breathe. If you breathe, you can think.”

It sounds kind of humorous hearing MacLean say that, but it makes sense. Zibanejad's nerves likely will be sky high, and if he gets caught in the whirlwind of emotion, it might become a bad experience for him and the Senators. So, just remember to breathe.

Good advice for a kid who admits he didn't get much sleep Thursday.

"I was nervous, but I finally got to sleep," Zibanejad said following Friday's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. "It's going to be nerve-wracking, for sure, but I'll just try to be calm and play my game and get into it as fast as possible. I'll just take it easy and breathe … just do my thing."

That's a sound idea for Zibanejad, who will be centering the Senators' top line, playing next to Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson and facing a team with seven Swedish players -- including stars Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Niklas Kronwall, who's also from Stockholm.

"Detroit gets a lot of attention back home, for sure," Zibanejad said. "They have so many Swedes. I've been watching all of them (growing up). I guess if I had to pick someone, (Lidstrom) is the guy I've been watching the most (growing up), even though I'm not on (defense). He's big back home, so it's going to be fun playing against him."

If Zibanejad can "do his thing" on the ice, it could be fun to watch. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, he's a big-bodied center who can skate and handle the puck. He also can score, which the Senators need on the offensive attack.

Alfredsson could also be a calming influence on his line, as the 38-year old has been through many big games in his career. Alfredsson's advice was similar to MacLean's when it comes to Zibanejad and fellow rookie, defenseman Jared Cowen, who will play his second NHL game Friday.

"Keep it simple," said Alfredsson, who's heading into his 16th season with 1,023 career points (389 goals, 634 assists). "We're on the road, so let's just work ourselves into the game and don't give them anything easy. It's a big deal (for the rookies), but we don't want to make it too big of a deal -- but make sure they enjoy it, too."
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