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Centres of Sens' attention: Mika Zibanejad

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Swedish centre Mika Zibanejad, shown in action against Team USA at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship earlier this year in Germany, has seen his stock for the upcoming 2011 NHL Entry Draft rise sharply in recent weeks (Photo by Francois Laplante/HHOF-IIHF Images).

(The Ottawa Senators hold the No. 6 overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn. The Sens have targeted four centres among the prospects they're hopeful will be available when that first-round pick rolls around. We take a closer look at them all this week in a series of profiles for

He is the ultimate wild card at the top of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Few potential top picks in this year's lottery offer up as much intrigue as Mika Zibanejad, the fast-rising centre from Swedish Elite League playoff champion Djurgarden.

The 18-year-old native of Stockholm was considered a late first-rounder at best at the season's outset. Now some experts can see Zibanejad as a top-five selection in the 2011 draft, set for June 24-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

NHL Central Scouting rates Zibanejad as the No. 2 European prospect for the upcoming draft behind Skelleftea blueliner Adam Larsson, a potential No. 1 overall pick. International Scouting Services, meanwhile, ranks Zibanejad sixth among all draft-eligible talent, which happens to be right where the Ottawa Senators sit in the draft order.

"It's his offensive ability," Senators director of player personnel Pierre Dorion said in explaining Zibanejad's rapid rise up the draft boards. "When we're talking about Mika, his skating is very good (and so is) his strength, his lower-body strength, his shooting ability and his puck skills.

"I was over there (in Sweden) seeing him player for Djurgarden in the playoffs and he had an impact as an 18-year-old playing against 30-year-olds. That's one of the criteria that helped his stock rise for the draft."

Many scouts' eyes were also opened at the World Under-17 Challenge earlier this year in Timmins, Ont., where Zibanejad racked up five goals in nine games in helping Sweden to the tournament's bronze medal.

"I had the opportunity to play with some great players, so that helped me in getting the points that I got," Zibanejad told "I felt I fit right in to playing on the smaller (North American) rinks, too."

He is widely considered to be the most improved European prospect heading into the 2011 draft.

"Mika's a real power forward but also has soft hands, good vision and fine skating skills," said Goran Stubb, the NHL's director of European scouting. "He has tremendous balance and is hard to knock off the puck. He's very strong in the battles along the boards, finishes checks with authority and has a heavy shot that he gets off quickly. Mika's a competitive player who is willing to pay the price to score a goal (and) he does have a very good understanding of his defensive duties."

Zibanejad, the son of an Iranian father and Finnish mother, doesn't shy away from the physical side of the game, though he has an eye for some of the game's most skilled stars.

"I watch Sidney Crosby for the work he does at centre," he said. "I watch Alex Ovechkin for the way he scores goals and I watch Pat Kane for the way he stickhandles. I'm not that type of guy to just look for the big hits. I try to play physical, but that's only because I want the puck back.

"Sometimes, you have to finish your checks on defencemen in order to tire them out."

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