Note: We're not looking at all the 2011 prospects, but we are looking at some with unusual backgrounds.
Of all top 2011 NHL Draft prospects, Mika Zibanejad has my favorite name and favorite background (Iranian father, Finnish mother). As a bonus, he also qualifies for my favorite phrase: "Already plays with men."
As luck would have it, he also happens to be a fine hockey player. Another Swede noted for early two-way play abilities, he can dazzle with the puck -- slipping through Adam Larsson here -- or drill a guy into the bench.
The conventional wisdom for Zibanejad's rise comes via his promotion from Junior B to Junior A to the elite league in Sweden this season -- a rarity for kids his age. Listed at almost 6'2" by nhl.com (6'0" and 6'1" elsewhere), the right-hander is described as a "power" type player who could be either wing or center and still has room to fill out.
Some Rankings by People Who Generally Know More than We Do
THN: 11th (overall)
ISS: 6th (overall
CSS: 2nd (European skaters)
TSN's Bob McKenzie: 10th (overall, based on his polling of scouts)
His assistant coach in Djurgarden told nhl.com he's a better player than New Jersey's Jacob Josefson was. Many far and wide have prospect crushes on Mika because he has that nice blend of skills, power, and two-way responsibility (it's a requirement in Sweden, no?) that make you think you're definitely getting a strong and trustworthy player, and maybe you're getting much more.
Variously described as "most improved," "versatile," and "strong," you have to bet a few Swede-loving NHL teams are licking their chops to have him.
Could that include the Islanders? Could he be one of those guys you try to trade down a couple slots for and pick up a little something extra, you know, for the effort? If you think the Islanders have no problem "reaching" for solid characters with good fundamentals, then you wouldn't be surprised to see him in Orange & Blue. (Of course, the way some experts talk about him, going at #5 is no longer a reach for Mika.)
Whatever happens, Zibanejad is likely to spend next year still in Sweden. Which should give you another full year to learn how to spell his name.
Some Descriptions by People Who Likewise Have More Clues than We're Privy To
Elite Prospects says:
Zibanejad is a very skilled center with great hockey sense and hands. He plays the game of a modern power forward, has a big frame and skates very well. Goes into heavy traffic without thinking twice. Will initiate physical play. Takes his defensive responsibilities seriously. A terrific faceoff man.
Versatility is also a bonus for Zibanejad who can play center or either wing as right-shooting player. He's a long strider who gets up and down the surface quickly and at 6-2, 192 pounds has plenty of room to fill out and get stronger. Zibanejad has soft hands and the vision/instincts to make plays all over the ice. He's also got a hard, heavy shot that he uses to great effect, sometimes seeing time at the point on the power play.
...and adds plenty more on him here:
Not a blazing fast skater, but has a fluid stride that will get more powerful as he gets stronger in his leg drive. Has very good edge control and leans into players, using his strength and power to go to the net. Has the ability to separate with breakway speed, but is more of a straight ahead player than a shifty, elusive one.
The Scouting Report (mid-term) says:
Zibanejad has benefited from playing in the SEL this season, and it should drive him to continually work on his skating which is an area of his game that he needs to work on.
On the move from wing to center, the same assistant coach told nhl.com:
When Patrick Cehlin earned a spot on the Swedish team that went to Buffalo to play in World Juniors, Mika got his opportunity to play in his spot. After the first couple of games he was playing so well, we decided to move him to center and he was fantastic
They ended up using him as third-line center and on the second powerplay unit.
Swede-loving Oilers blog Copper & Blue has had a crush on him for a while. They had this interview with Mika last fall, before he was promoted and began rising from a projected 2nd-round pick to something high in the 1st. They later looked at him with this overview (some of the same links, some not) a couple of months ago.
From the interview, it's clear the two-way game and improving his skills are big deals to him. He's a Sidney Crosby admirer, for the right reasons. It's hard to imagine whatever team selects him will not be happy. Even if he's never a scoring star, he sounds like one of those players you never have to worry about.