Senators GM challenges Zibanejad to take No. 1 spot

General Manager of the Senators Bryan Murray talks about winger Clarke MacArthur’s concussion and how Ottawa is planning to deal with it.

Among all NHL centres, the Ottawa SenatorsKyle Turris ranks fourth in scoring.

If that fact isn’t a little astonishing on its own, consider what the Sens gave up to the then Phoenix Coyotes to land such an important pivot: a second-round pick and defenceman David Rundblad, who has spent the past three seasons struggling to get meaningful ice time with the Chicago Blackhawks.

A bona fide steal in hindsight, Turris was only projected to become the Senators’ No. 2 centre at the time of that December 2011 deal, Murray told Hockey Central at Noon Thursday, but he’s certainly the team’s No. 1 man — for now.

“He was a young guy with a big upside,” Murray explained, throwing back on a Thursday. “For some reason, he probably came up a bit early [with Phoenix] to play in the NHL and was a little behind.”

Turris, 26, has since developed into “a force” with the Senators. He ripped 26 goals in 2013-14, 24 more in 2014-15, and already has four (to go with four helpers) in this young campaign. Better yet: He hasn’t missed a game of action since the lockout and is very affordable.

Ottawa has Turris locked up for three seasons at a team-friendly $3.5-million salary-cap hit.

“He’s a key part of what happens with our team. He and [Mark] Stone in particular have hit it off, and now with [Mike] Hoffman going on that line, with the way he shoots the puck, it’s going to be a real good line,” Murray said.

“At the moment, he’s our No. 1 centre. We’re just waiting for [Mika] Zibanejad to show his best and see if he can overtake that role. But that’s our No. 1 line at this time.”

Zibanejad, 22, is off to a decent start, too, especially when you consider his wingers (Milan Michalek and Bobby Ryan) haven’t brought the same firepower as Turris’s. Notching five points through six games, the 22-year-old Swede is well on pace to best last’s season’s 46 points, which was a career high.

The player pushing to overtake Turris for that top spot is under contract at a $2.625-million cap hit through 2016-17, at which point Zibanejad will become a restricted free agent.

So expect this friendly battle for ice time to continue for a while. And with sophomore Curtis Lazar still developing in the bottom six, the Senators appear to well-positioned up the middle for the near future.

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