ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Two weeks ago, Mika Zibanejad was among a group of five players the Ottawa Senators invited to town for dinner and a skate.
They wanted to get to know him a little better, in case his name was still on the board when their No. 6 pick rolled around.
Turns out it was a good move, worth the money, because he was available and the Senators selected him.
The six-foot-two, 192-pound centre from Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League fills an obvious need on the team, with the holes left when Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly were traded.
General manager Bryan Murray said Zibanejad will be given every chance to make the team this year but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see him spend another season in the SEL. He has one year left on his contract with Djurgarden.
If the Senators sign him before July 15, he can try out for the NHL club and stay with them if he makes the team, bypassing the final year of his Swedish contract. But if he doesn’t make the Senators, he goes back to Djurgarden.
“We thought it was very important to get a forward who could play fairly early on, whether it’s next year or the year after,” said general manager Bryan Murray.
“We’ve got a big guy who can skate, handle the puck, and will bring a real impact to our hockey team. I’m real excited to have Mika.”
With their second pick, 21st overall, the Senators took Plymouth right-wing Stefan Noeson. He had 34 goals and 43 assists for 77 points. This pick came from the Nashville Predators in the trade for Fisher.
The Senators then traded two second-round picks, 35th and 48th overall, to the Detroit Red Wings for the 24th pick and selected Peterborough left-wing Matt Puempel. He had 34 goals and 35 assists last season.
The six-foot-one, 193-pound Noeson is from the Dallas, Texas, suburb of Plano. Murray said Noeson has paid a big price to get where he is today, by leaving his family to play in the OHL.
There was a bit of intrigue leading up to the selection of Zibanejad.
After Red Deer centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton), Kitchener Ranger forward Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado), Saint John Sea Dog forward Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson (New Jersey) and Niagara forward Ryan Stome (New York Islanders) were selected with the first five picks, it was thought the Senators were leaning toward toward Drummondville forward Sean Couturier, who, along with Zibanejad, also visited Ottawa two weeks ago.
But they chose Zibanejad, who rose from No. 3 in the mid-term European rankings to No. 2 in the final rankings, just behind Larsson.
The Senators have probably never had a player with the Zibanejad’s familial background.
Zibanejad’s father is Iranian, his mother is Finnish, and he was born in Sweden — hence the nickname he has found himself with: the Persian Prince. His half-brother, Monir Kalgoum, is also a professional hockey player in Europe.
Zibanejad was surprised to be picked so early, but he was also surprised two weeks ago when the Senators invited him to the city.
It was a pretty big clue they were thinking seriously about him, he said, but the competition was also pretty darn good.
“Well, obviously when they’re bringing you to Ottawa, they’re interested,” he said. “I got a good feeling when I was there. There are great players there batting for that pick.
“Obviously, to be picked by Ottawa that early is an amazing feeling. I’m very excited about it.”
He said while he’ll try to do everything he can to make the NHL next year, another year in Sweden wouldn’t be a bad idea. He’s only really played half a season in the elite league and took some time to get adjusted.
“In the beginning it was (difficult), but obviously after the first three or four games it felt like I was made for that level,” he said.
“I’m really happy I got the chance and opportunity to play with them and that’s the level I wanted to play in. I got more confidence after the coach gave me ice time and all that kind of stuff.”
One of the attractions of Zibanejad is that he’s not only a skilled player, he has size and he uses it. He’s a rugged player. Don Cherry won’t be criticizing him as a soft Swede.
Zibabejad said that’s the element he tries to bring to his game.
“Well, obviously, most of the guys are very skilled in Europe,” he said. “I try to add to my physical part of my game, play physical and try to add to my skill.
“That’s the way the North American guys play.”
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