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Zibanejad enjoys Swede moment at training camp

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators

He's already been to his first Senators development camp. Signed his first NHL contract. Put on a show for the Ottawa prospects in their rookie tournament triumph last weekend in Oshawa.

But Mika Zibanejad's "welcome to the NHL moment" officially came just before noon on Saturday morning at the Bell Sensplex, when he hit the ice with a player who's an idol to the Senators top pick (sixth overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Call it one Swede moment, indeed, for an 18-year-old who has a very large future in Ottawa.

"You've got to pinch yourself on the arm every time you see him on the ice the same time as you," Zibanejad said of sharing practice ice with Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "It was a dream coming true, for sure."

It's early, but the greatest player in Senators history already has a rather favourable impression of the young fella.

"He's a powerful skater and strong on the puck," said Alfredsson who, at 38, is more than twice Zibanejad's age. "It's hard to (judge) after one practice, but it's fun to be out there with him. He's quite a bit younger than I am, so I'm hopefully going to let him do the backchecking" (yes, the captain was grinning by the end of that comment).

At a training camp teeming with hot young prospects, Zibanejad will clearly be a young man to watch. He and France native Stephane Da Costa — another rookie tournament standout — figure to get a long look by the Senators in terms of filling the No. 2 centre hole (a position that Danish native Peter Regin also covets).

"They're two guys who are in the competition for that job," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said in reference to the two youngsters. "Neither one of them might be ready, so who's to say? We know the three games in Oshawa, they both played real well and showed real well. We're going to monitor them closely through the exhibition season and if one of them is ready to play, we'll give them the opportunity. If not, then we'll have to do something else."

If Zibanejad doesn't make the cut, he'll head back to Sweden to fulfill the final year of his contract with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League. And what a story he'd have to tell about his first Senators training camp.
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