Hamilton Bulldogs forward Sven Andrighetto hails from Zurich, Switzerland, but his goal has been to play in the National Hockey League since as far back as he can remember.
"As soon as I knew the NHL existed, I wanted to play there," said Andrighetto, who was a third-round pick (No. 86) by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2013 NHL Draft. "It's the best League in the world, obviously. I want to be a part of that. I want to be one of the best players in the world. It's everyone's dream."
And the kid is all-in to make that dream a reality. They're hockey cliches, but Andrighetto, 20, repeats his mantras with authority: work hard, be ready to learn, get better every day.
After two years of Canadian major junior hockey and a strong start to his first professional season in North America with the Bulldogs, it looks like the Swiss sensation practices what he preaches.
Andrighetto spent the past two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Rouyn-Noranda, moving to the northern Quebec town as an 18-year-old with his sights set on learning the North American game after having played in the Swiss second-tier National League B for a year.
"The biggest difference between here and back home is the ice," Andrighetto said. "Here, the ice is smaller so you get less time with the puck. Everything happens a lot quicker."
Andrighetto seems more than capable of keeping up, no matter the pace of the game. In 2011-12, he notched 74 points (36 goals, 38 assists) in 62 games with Rouyn-Noranda. He followed up that strong rookie performance with 98 points (31 goals, 67 assists) in 53 games in 2012-13, good for sixth in the "Q" in scoring.
Even though he was passed over by NHL clubs in his first two years of draft eligibility, Andrighetto's offensive instincts were too great for Montreal to ignore a third time.
Andrighetto didn't know if he was going to get drafted, but attended the event in Newark, N.J., anyway at the urging of his junior coach, Andre Tourigny. Leaving his home country to play hockey at 18 had gotten him what he needed – a foot in the door.
"I think to get drafted, you have a better chance when you're playing [in North America]," Andrighetto said. "I also came here to develop my game. I wanted to start early to get the North American style of play into my game. Now I did a little bit. I know how it goes here. That's one of the biggest things."
Andrighetto is already proving he can play and contribute at the American Hockey League level, a necessary step toward reaching the NHL. Through his first 15 games, he leads the Bulldogs in goals with seven and is third on the team with 11 points.
Hamilton coach and long-time NHL defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre had some encouraging words for Andrighetto at the start of training camp that have helped him make the transition to pro.
"He told me just to have fun out there and do what I do best, to compete, to work hard," Andrighetto said. "He knows that I'm a skilled player, but that doesn't mean I don't have to work hard. I have to be the hardest working guy on the team."
While scoring is his forte, Andrighetto understands there's much work to be done to round himself into a complete player. So far, he has displayed a knack for defensive responsibility with a plus-4 rating, showing even or better in each of his first 13 contests.
"I think defensive play is one of my weaknesses, even though I improved it a lot last year, but it's still not where I want it to be," Andrighetto said. "In the offensive zone, I think I'm creative, I can do stuff with the puck, I can shoot and I find open plays for my teammates."
As long as the young Swiss forward sticks to the core values he keeps talking about, he should be just fine.
"I just try to do my best every single day, work hard, improve and get better," Andrighetto says. "It's my first time in the league and I've got a lot to learn. I know that. I'm ready to learn. I want to learn. I want to get better every day."
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