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'Dream coming true' for top Senators prospect

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Mika Zibanejad, the Senators' top pick (sixth overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, signed an entry-level deal with the team today and hopes to make the Ottawa roster out of training camp (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Mika Zibanejad's biggest hockey dream has taken a key step closer to becoming reality.

The Senators' top pick (sixth overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft inked his first contract with the team today, assuring he'll get a chance to make Ottawa's roster out of training camp in September. Zibanejad has one year remaining on his current deal with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League but can forego it if he lands a spot with the Senators.

"I'm excited. It's a dream coming true, for sure," said Zibanejad, an 18-year-old native of Huddinge, Sweden, a suburb of Stockholm. "You've always been dreaming (since you were younger) and you always have a goal to make it to the NHL. I think I'm one step closer, but there's so much hard work left.

"I'll try to do everything I can to make the team and help the Ottawa Senators win the Stanley Cup someday. It's very exciting and I'm really happy."

Under the terms of the transfer agreement between the National Hockey League and the International Ice Hockey Federation, Zibanejad had to sign with the Senators by Friday or he would have been obligated to return to Djurgarden to complete his contract there. If he doesn't make the Ottawa roster this fall, the Senators are obligated to send him back to that club team in Sweden.

"It's great to get him signed," said Tim Murray, the Senators' assistant general manager. "There was a bit of a push to get him signed if we wanted him to come over here and at least try out for the team this year. We thought that was important, that he get over here for part of the summer, then go through the full training camp and exhibition games so we could get a real good evaluation on him and go from there.

"The only way that was going to happen was if he did sign a contract."

Zibanejad was one of five prospects the Senators brought to Ottawa in advance of the June draft in St. Paul, Minn. He was immediately taken by the city and the team, a feeling that was reinforced by the reception he received during the Senators' annual development camp earlier this month.

"I really like the city," he said. "I really liked everything I saw. I like the arena, I like the facility at the practice rink (Bell Sensplex). I love the fans there already and I really enjoyed it. I was there for a visit before the draft and I got the feeling this was the city I wanted to play in and this was the team I wanted to play for.

"I'm really happy that they took me and I'm really happy that I've got the chance to be an Ottawa Senator."

Whether he'll wear the Senators jersey come the fall will depend greatly on the kind of summer Zibanejad has in terms of physical development. Murray, for one, has no doubt the prized prospect will whatever is necessary to give himself the best opportunity.

"The summer is the question," said Murray. "He has to have a big summer, as most kids do. But he's a big strong guy (6-2, 200 pounds), he's a driven guy and he wants it very badly. He's going to become a player, it's just a matter of when. We hope it's this training camp that he shows that he's ready. But he's on the right arc and a high arc.

"We know now that he's coming here and he'll get a full opportunity to make the team."

Count on Zibanejad, who's heading back to Sweden today, making the most of that chance. He'll return to Ottawa in August to work out under in the direction of Senators conditioning coach Chris Schwarz.

"I'm going to prepare myself as best as possible for the camp and I want to make sure I give myself an honest chance to make the team this year," he said. "If I don't, I'm going back to Sweden and I don't think that's a bad idea to be there (either), maybe develop and get bigger and stronger for one more year."

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