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Swedish trio teaming up once again with Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Djugarden teammates Mika Zibanejad (left) and Fredrik Claesson were all smiles on Saturday after both were picked in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Senators. They're in Ottawa together this week taking part in Senators development camp (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images).

As he watched it all unfold from afar, Marcus Sorensen couldn't believe his eyes.

Or his good fortune.

First, he watched the Ottawa Senators choose his good friend and Djurgarden teammate, Mika Zibanejad, with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn. Then, in the fifth round, another Djurgarden teammate, defenceman Fredrik Claesson, went 126th overall to the Senators as well.

"It was amazing," said Sorensen, a fourth-round pick himself (106th overall) in the 2010 draft. "I saw the draft live on TV (at home in Sweden), so I was really happy about it. It was a dream that Mika and Fredrik came to Ottawa."

And there the three friends from Stockholm were on the ice at the Bell Sensplex today, shooting pucks together long after pretty much all the rest of the prospects at Senators development camp had left the ice (Stefan Noesen, a Texas native, hung around to the end with them). It is a special reunion, indeed, for three players who have come to know each other so well.

At the centre of it is Zibanejad, the hottest prospect of the three, who is expected to fill a prime role with the Senators on one of their top two lines — perhaps even as soon as this fall. Both Sorensen and Claesson speak warmly about the friend he's become to both of them.

"He's good at everything," Sorensen said of Zibanejad. "On the ice, he's one of the best in the Swedish Elite League. And he's so nice outside (the rink). You can't not love him. He's a nice guy, always nice."

Said Claesson: "(Zibanejad) is a very good friend outside of the rink. And on the ice, he's very good."

For his part, the 18-year-old Zibanejad is thrilled to have two friends chasing the same hockey dream by his side here in Ottawa.

"I talked to (Sorensen) before the draft and we were talking about it and dreaming about it, that I would get picked by Ottawa, and that's what happened," he said. "Claesson is also a nice guy and really enjoy playing with him. I'm really happy we could all play here."

When Claesson's name was still on the board, Zibanejad — who attended the second day of the draft at the Xcel Energy Center clad in his new Senators jersey — hinted at his new bosses his buddy was still available for them. Fortunately for both, Ottawa complied and they greeted each other warmly on the draft floor.

"That was awesome," said Claesson. "That made me feel very comfortable and very great. I know lots of people here now. David Rundblad and lots of Swedes are here. It makes it very comfortable to be here."

Added Zibanejad: "I was so happy (for Claesson). I played with him the last two years and he's a really nice guy. I was really happy for him and really happy that the Ottawa Senators drafted him."

Sorensen had to wait his turn to share the moment, though he called Zibanejad after he was picked to offer his congratulations.

"When I saw him (Monday, when players arrived for development camp, I gave him a hug," said Sorensen. "It was really funny."

Zibanejad and Sorensen are linemates with Djurgarden, a partnership that will continue if the former winds up heading back to Sweden for another season.

"We played together last year in Djurgarden and played on the same line, so we had a good connection," said Sorensen. "We are perfect for each other."

It's a partnership, however, that is destined to end next season. Sorensen is moving on to Skelleftea, which employed Rundblad the last three years. As well, Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray said today the organization isn't ruling out the possibility of Zibanejad making the team out of training camp.

"He's going to get the shot," said Murray. "If he has a big summer, if he comes back in September and adds 10 pounds of muscle ... say he comes to camp and works hard, gets in that first exhibition game and things start to click for him. If all those things start to happen -- that's a lot of ifs there — then we're going to take a look at him.

"Age is not the factor there, it's whether you can contribute and whether you can play. The opposite could be true. He could come to camp and it just doesn't click for him and it's an easy decision (to send him back to Sweden). But we want him to make it a hard decision for us."

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