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Mika Zibanejad's Draft Diary: 'Cherish It & Don't Take it For Granted'

Rangers center thinks back on the Combine, the bike test, his draft night & being traded to New York

by Mika Zibanejad | @mikazibanejad

The most stressful 10 minutes of my life weren't while I was waiting to be drafted. 

They were actually after I had been traded. 

The day I found out I had been traded from the Senators to the Rangers, I was Facetiming with my brother because I had just built a new house in Ottawa. I had been there for one week exactly. I was showing my brother around the house, and I got a phone call from a number I didn't recognize. So I didn't answer it. 

Then, my phone died immediately.

I put it on charge, and 15 minutes later, I had four or five missed calls from my agent, four or five emails and a text message from my agent and I'm like… I know I have my contract coming up next year, but I'm like, this doesn't feel very right. 

Obviously I called him back, I heard I had been traded, and it was a shock. My agent only said, "You're going to New York."

Being from Sweden and knowing that you're with the Rangers, and how everyone knows the Rangers back in Sweden, I knew it would be really cool to play for them. And living in New York, living on Manhattan, it was something I could never dream of. 

About 15 minutes before the trade was officially announced, I talked to both GMs and finally, I knew I was headed to the Rangers. 

Then, I had to sell my brand new house. I was lucky because my family kind of took care of that so I didn't have to focus on it. 

I remember talking to the Rangers at my Combine in 2011. Obviously don't remember exactly what the questions were; there were a lot of faces during a hectic day and a half, but I definitely remember them. Thinking way back, back to growing up in Sweden, the Rangers were obviously one of those teams you look forward to meeting, so it was definitely special. It was so hectic that I couldn't tell you who was in the room, how many guys were in the room and stuff, but obviously it's fun when a team like that even is a little bit interested in you - Original Six teams that you grew up watching - so it was really cool. Obviously a little surreal, walking in there. 

At my Combine, I interviewed with almost every team - 29 out of 30. Actually, the only team that didn't interview me was Detroit, which was kind of funny because they have such a long history with Swedes and everything. 

I didn't for sure know that Ottawa wanted me or was going to take me, but I definitely felt the interest. But I felt interest from a lot of teams. The Senators invited me for another meeting in Ottawa to come see them there, but at the time, I wasn't really thinking about whether they'd take me. At the Combine, I was so focused on, like, trying to answer everyone's questions in a way that represented myself well and represented what kind of guy I was. It was all about that, at that point - especially at that age, when I didn't really have an outgoing personality. There were some teams that kind of pushed the envelope a little bit. Beforehand, you're kind of scared a little bit - what are they going to ask you? - but at the end of the day, you're just a regular guy at 17, 18, and you're just trying to answer as honestly as you can. 

As hard as it was, though, that wasn't even the hardest part of the Combine. The hardest part was the bike test. I know the other two guys have said that, too. At the time, I had just come back from a wrist injury, so I couldn't do any upper body stuff, but the bike really killed me. There are a lot of nerves and a lot of emotions going through that, knowing that scouts and trainers are watching every push on that bike, and you just try to do the best to your capability and just go from there. After I was done, I had to use the puke room. I can admit it. I used it after the first 30-second bike. That was a tough one. 

(Also, speaking of a tough one, thanks for posting this. Sometimes I wish they never took that photo. It was really early in the morning and I didn't have time to fix the hair.) 

Tweet from @NYRangers: #TBT at the #NHLCombine. Name this #NYR Boy Band 💭

No matter where you're projected to go in the draft, you never really know. You see all the rankings, you hear all the talk and whatnot, but you never know. You saw some guys being projected really high and kind of drop depending on different things, so it was nerve-wracking. But it was fun to go through. For a guy like me, I think I started the year projected to go in the late second round, early third round. Then I kind of started climbing up on those charts. It was cool. The whole experience was really cool throughout that year. By the time the draft came around, my agent told me that I pretty much wouldn't have to sit there for more than an hour, so I started counting the minutes that it took.

I had my older brother, my mom, my dad, and obviously my Swedish agent with me there, and then I had my cousins and my relatives from Atlanta there as well. My brother's always big on surprises and stuff, so he surprised me with a limo taking us to the draft, and that was really cool. The whole experience is something that you'll never forget. It's basically your first step toward even getting a chance to produce on that level. Just thinking about it now kind of gives me goosebumps. Those feelings come back to you.

It was really cool, sitting with your family and just waiting for them to call you, and sharing that moment with the people closest to you who've been there with you the whole time, who have really been pushing and helping and supporting in all different kinds of ways. I had an expectation, or just kind of a feeling, like, "Alright, this should be around the spot where I get picked." Once I heard them call my name, I was shaking. I didn't know what to do.

The one thing I really remember about walking up to that stage after Ottawa picked me was being really sweaty. I was kind of like talking to my brother about that - we were sharing a room, and we were talking about how if I sweat through my shirt, it wouldn't show because I had to put the jersey on over it anyway. :) We kind of went through it and worked it out. 

I was so nervous. Especially at that age, I didn't really like to be in front of a lot of people, so it was really nerve-wracking. But it was so cool. You see videos from different drafts before your own, and then all of a sudden it's happening to you, and it just felt like a dream - the whole thing. Just couldn't have been any better. 

It feels kind of weird to be giving advice to guys who are being drafted now because I haven't come that far in my own career. I'm not done and I still have a lot of time to figure all this stuff out. But I would just say to enjoy the whole draft. Just enjoy that whole experience, especially when you're there with your family and your close friends and you know the rest of your friends are following along on TV. You've worked so hard to get to that point, and obviously the fun and the hard work really begins after this. 

I think just in that moment, cherish that. It's something you're going to remember for a very long time. Don't take it for granted. It's something that not a lot of people get the privilege of going through and experiencing, so just kind of enjoy everything that's happening those few days. 

Everything happens so fast, so make sure you kind of slow it down in your head and really, really enjoy it. It only happens once. 

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