Draft Target: Mika Zibanejad

The first (and only) European amongst the draft targets I’ll be profiling, Mika Zibanejad’s stock has done nothing but rise over the course of 2010-11. Winnipeg doesn’t have an elite center, and only Jim Slater had a faceoff% over 50%. Winnipeg in general is weak up the middle, with the best of the bunch being probably Bryan Little, though he started in the opponents zone 55% of the time last year, giving him some cushy shifts.

Enter Zibanejad. The Iranian-Finnish player from Sweden (crazy) probably doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as other players profilied here, or most players who will be picked in the top 10, but seems to be one of the safest if not the safest bet to turn into a good NHLer. As expected from someone who has already played in the Swedish Elite League, Zibanejad has great hockey sense. He doesn’t have great lateral quickness, but is pretty good going north-south, and uses his size (6’2″, 190 lbs) to his advantage.

Offensively, Zibanejad is blessed with great puckhandling skills (not surprising from a Swedish player), a very good shot, and good vision. Despite being blessed with a good shot and the ability to score a lot of goals, he still is a very good set-up man (though Winnipeg does have a shortage of elite wingers to pass to).

Defensively, he won’t be Henrik Zetterberg out there, but he won’t be Henrik Sedin either. He’s probably not going to shut down another team’s top line, but he backchecks and isn’t lazy on that end of the rink, and I think he has the work ethic necessary to evolve into a very good defender. I was able to watch him a bit at the U-18 championships this past year (on admittedly grainy internet feeds) and I was impressed with his two way game, his size and physical tools (obviously) and his work ethic. It seemed to me (and again, admittedly small sample size) he got to a lot of loose pucks and won a lot of one on one battles.

I do wonder if Chevy will feel some pressure to take a good ole Canadian boy with his first ever draft pick, but if they want to build up the middle I am sure Winnipeg will learn to love a good ole Iranian-Finnish-Swedish boy.

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