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Youth movement in Ottawa: David Rundblad, Mika Zibanejad and others make the cut

Oct 1, 2011, 10:36 PM EDT

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James Reimer, Mika Zibanejad AP

When you took a look at what the Ottawa Senators were going to have going on for them this season, chances are when you looked at their roster you found yourself asking, “Who? Wait… Who?” Sure there’s Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson and Craig Anderson in goal, but the rest of their support players aren’t exactly a laundry list of stars in the NHL.

With that kind of depth in question and injuries nagging those guys that would start like forwards Peter Regin and Jesse Winchester as well as defenseman Matt Carkner, the door has swung open in a big way for the host of young guys who made big impressions in Senators camp. Forwards Stephane Da Costa and Mika Zibanejad as well as defensemen David Rundblad and Jared Cowen will all be sticking around in Ottawa when the season starts next week helping make the Senators one of the youngest teams in the league.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun gives his take on Zibanejad, the sixth overall pick in 2011, getting his shot to shine.

Zibanejad isn’t here just because he was the No. 6 overall pick and the Senators are trying to sell hope. He deserves the nine-game audition (until his NHL contract kicks in) before a final decision has to be made.

Not only has Zibanejad shown he’s got the skills to compete, he has also worked hard to be physical. Alfredsson said the rookie impressed the coaching staff with a strong performance Thursday in a tough building in Boston.

“His overall game is really solid,” said Alfredsson. “If you’re going to play a lot of minutes, like he has during the exhibition (season), you have to know how to play all over the ice.

“When you’re a high pick, that usually means you have a lot of skill, but for a guy who doesn’t have much experience playing against men, he’s smart with and without the puck and that’s why he’s surprised a lot of people.”

Cowen and Zibanejad are first round picks of the Senators. Cowen was taken in the first round in 2009 while Zibanejad went in the first round just this past summer. Da Costa was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Merrimack College last spring while Runblad was acquired from St. Louis in an exchange of first round picks in 2010.

Now all four players are set to try and change things around in Ottawa under new coach Paul MacLean and they’re going to need them to play like veterans if Ottawa is going to hang tough in the Eastern Conference. As it was, Regin was likely set to be the Sens’ second line center and without much scoring help along the wings, Ottawa was set to look like a one-line team. With Spezza, Alfredsson, and Milan Michalek as their top line guys and only guys like Nick Foligno and Bobby Butler there with any kind of goal-scoring ability… It wasn’t shaping up to be too bright.

Ottawa hopes that Zibanejad, and to a lesser degree Da Costa, can help fill out ranks in a big way. Zibanejad has impressed in a big way in training camp and expect to see him get the full nine-game look before the team decides whether or not he’s headed back out.

On defense, Rundblad will likely get the long look while Carkner is out while Cowen looks to be ready to go regardless. Rundblad had the tendency to turn things over defensively in training camp but his offensive game looks good. Cowen is big and strong and looked NHL-ready all camp. While Carkner is a physical defenseman who fights, the talent level with Cowen and Rundblad is more useful. The only question there is whether the good stuff will outnumber the mistakes.

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