This week Darren Kennedy takes an in-depth look at Mika Zibanejad and Morgan Rielly
6’ 2”, 211lbs
Drafted 6th Overall, 2011
A friend of mine presented the idea of a “post hype-sleeper” a few years ago. I’m sure he didn’t come up with the idea (unless he did and I am totally not giving him enough credit here). In any event, it is a term used to describe a player that was incredibly hyped leading into their rookie season only to struggle a bit. Then, a few years later, when most of the attention has dissipated, they arrive as a useful fantasy asset. Enter Mika Zibanejad.
Drafted sixth overall in 2011 he entered the league with the expectations you would expect on a guy taken so early. His nine game tryout in 2011-12 showed he wasn’t quite ready, posting only one assist and 12 shots.
Last season he managed to stick with the Senators for the majority of the year, ending with 20 points in 42 games. This year, he started slowly, but has been fairly productive of late, with 6 points in his last 8 games.
A big reason for the recent production has been time spent alongside Jason Spezza, one of the best playmakers of his generation. Of late the two have been separated with Zibanejad centering the third line between Cory Conacher and Milan Michalek. However, Spezza has remained with him on the first power play unit, flanked by Clarke MacArthur on the opposite wing.
Another factor that plays a role with virtually every prospect is ice time, especially on the man advantage. Last year, the Swedish born Zibanejad averaged only 1:55 on the power play. This year, he’s been playing 2:17. While it’s not a major jump, it’s indicative of his growing role on the team.
What about his physical gifts? When watching him skate there are few things that stick out. Firstly, his skill set is still incredibly raw. He doesn’t quite see the entire ice surface yet, failing to always locate the best outlet for the puck. Secondly, his skating is above average for the NHL. He’s a joy to watch streak down the ice in possession of the puck. Many defencemen are forced to provide him ample space, lest they be beaten to the outside.
Now before you go scoop up Zibanejad and start building your five year keeper league plan around him there is an important fact to keep in mind – he hasn’t proven to be an elite scorer at any level. That isn’t to say he hasn’t had offensive outbursts (eight points in six games at the World Junior Championship to name one), but in recent years the high end production hasn’t been there.
Reading up on reports from others it seems that he has been billed as a great two way player. Competent in his own zone with the ability to contribute offensively. Fantastic news if you are supporter of the Senators, not as exciting for poolies.
From a fantasy standpoint I see him as similar to Mikhail Grabovski in the future. A player that can do a little bit of everything on the ice, though he may not be among the lead leaders in any particular category. I hope to be proven wrong, since Zibanejad is an enjoyable guy to have on the television. However, if I’m targeting prospects based predominantly on offensive ceiling, I may look elsewhere.
Toronto Maple Leafs
6’ 1”, 205lbs
Drafted 5th Overall, 2012
As a Leaf fan I’ve had the opportunity to watch a lot of Morgan Rielly this season. Sometimes it feels like I’m flip flopping between the present and future all in the span of a single game – for a moment he’ll be the unbelievably gifted offensive defenceman capable of skating the puck out of danger and into the attacking zone. The next, he is a teenager, unable to secure his man in the defensive zone and in need of a couple more seasons of refinement.
Reilly was the top offensive blue liner in his draft class and produced elite totals the last two years in the WHL for the Moose Jaw Warriors (almost a point per game). His numbers here at the NHL have been muted, understandably so for a teenager, amassing nine assists through the first 22 games.
What has poolies so intrigued is that his skill set is reminiscent of Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson three years ago. He is able to make strong outlet passes and join in the rush himself when needed – even more noticeable in overtime with the expanded open ice. He will, at some point soon, debut on the top power play unit alongside Dion Phaneuf (assuming he signs long term) and become the team’s true special teams quarterback.
I use Karlsson as an example because his skill set is very similar to that of Rielly. The comparison should not be taken to mean I believe Reilly will ever reach the heights of Karlsson (who already has a Norris trophy and is arguably the top fantasy defenceman).
It’s also important to remember that Karlsson’s breakout year came at age 21 would seem to be an aberration compared to other young defencemen. The typical age for players to start producing strong offensive numbers is closer to their mid-20s – which means we need to give Rielly time.
What kind of player could he be long term? The defencemen that immediately comes to mind is Keith Yandle of the Coyotes. He is another smooth skater, who is not afraid to jump in on plays and manages the power play. If Reilly can emulate that kind of play there is no reason he can’t settle into the 45 to 55 point range, with the odd season above that.
If you are in a keeper league that allows for more than 100 players to be kept year over year, or have a farm system then there might be room for Rielly heading into next season. For those in one year pools he is still a teenager adjusting to the pro game, as such I would temper expectations for the next 50 or so games.
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