There’s a bit of a Nino Niederreiter feeling to Mika Zibanejad heading into this year’s draft (imagine Don Cherry trying to read that sentence). For those unfamiliar, Neiderreiter rocketed up the charts last year thanks to a strong season with the Portland Winterhawks and an outstanding showing at the World Junior Championships. Although he ended up ranked somewhere of the middle of the first round by most consensus agencies heading into the draft weekend last June, he ended up going fifth overall to the New York Islanders.
Part of the reason for Niederreiter’s meteoric rise up the ranks wasn’t just some nice counting numbers, but his high-impact style of play: the big 6’2" and 205 pound winger was noticable on just about every shift whenever I watched him – be it because of his skating, his hitting or his willingness to mix it up.
Probably the same can be said for Zibanejad. Although he appeared in just 26 games for Djurgardens of the SEL (scoring just five goals and nine points), the 6’0, 190 pound center is appearing in the top-10 of most mock drafts these because of he plays the game the "right way" by many accounts. Corey Pronman ranked Zibanejad 7th overall amongst all draft eligibles recently, adding:
Ranking Explanation: Zibanejad rose to this point on my list thanks to a skill set that is above-average in just about every regard, and intangibles that are just off the chart. In comparing him to Beaulieu it wasn’t really that close. Zibanejad is significantly better in the possession game, and the only area where Beaulieu exceeded him was in skating by a full grade, but that wasn’t enough to top everything Zibanejad brought to the table. This was one of my easier rankings to do. Zibanejad arguably in pure talent could go toe-to-toe with Larsson and Murphy and get to fifth overall but as said before the market values play a part with this ranking more than talent.
Despite high praise, the numbers don’t overly flatter Zibanejad. Of course, kids playing in high-end pro leagues don’t tend to get the most ice time (particularly in scoring situations) which tends to suppress their output. Peter Forsberg, for example, played in just 23 games and scored 17 points for Modo during his draft year as a 17-year old. So even though Zibanejad has probably the worst counting numbers of those candidates we’ll consider, he’s universally ranked pretty high by all the consensus outfits: NHL CS had him second amongst EU skaters behind Adam Larsson (he was third behind Armia mid-way thruogh the year) and like Pronman, ISS ranked Zibanejad 7th overall (he wasn’t even top-15 in december). Red Line Report also had Zibanejad in their top-10, the only guy in our candidates list to make that claim.
As such, there’s almost no chance Zibanejad will be available come the Flames turn next Friday. If he experiences a Cam Fowler like fall for whatever reason, though, I fully expect the Flames to call his name at the podium.