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Zibanejad settling back into hockey life in Sweden

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators prospect Mika Zibanejad is focused on honing his game with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League. He's also like a shot at the 2012 world juniors in Alberta (Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

His National Hockey League dream is on hold for the moment.

And Mika Zibanejad says his focus is squarely on the present, which means doing what he can to improve the fortunes of Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League. All of which he figures will make him an even more attractive commodity to the Ottawa Senators when he returns to North America next fall.

In an interview with, the Senators' top pick (sixth overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft suggests he's past the disappointment of being sent home to Sweden after he started the NHL season in Ottawa and saw nine games' worth of duty for the team. The 18-year-old Stockholm native is now fulfilling the final year of his contract with Djurgarden, which currently sits just outside a playoff position in the SEL.

"It was too bad that I couldn't stay (in Ottawa)," Zibanejad, a 6-1, 200-pound centre, told "But last March, all I wanted was to play in the NHL and I've done that now. Having said that, it'll be good for me to play another season in Sweden. It's nice to be at home and practise and work on my game to simply get better.

"Now I know that I'll be here all season, so I can focus on Djurgarden."

The return of Zibanejad, who quickly became a fan favourite in Ottawa during his short stint with the Senators, was highly anticipated by Djurgarden. It's surely a far cry from Dec. 4, 2010, when a relatively unkown Zibanejad made his debut as a fourth liner with the Stockholm-based team. But by season's end, his stock had risen immensely in the eyes of NHL scouts.

While he arrived back in Sweden with some NHL pedigree, Zibanejad remains one of the youngest players on a Djurgarden team captained by Marcus Nilson, who has more than 500 games of NHL experience on his resume. It's a common sight to see the Sens prospect picking up pucks after team practices and removing nets for the Zamboni to do its work.

"Last year, I came out of nowhere, so it's a little different now," he said. "I can build on the experiences from last season but at the same time, there's only one player (on the team) who's younger than me, so collecting the pucks and all that falls onto my plate."

In eight games with Djurgarden so far this season, Zibanejad his produced two goals and an assist while averaging 16 minutes of ice time per game. He's hopeful he can boost his offensive numbers as the season moves forward.

"I'd like to contribute a little more, considering that the coaches seem to believe in me and give me both penalty kill and power-play minutes," said Zibanejad. "But I'm also still a junior player and everybody on the team is responsible for the team's success."

Zibanejad is also a prime candidate to represent Sweden at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Calgary and Edmonton. The tournament is being played in two NHL arenas and it's an opportunity he says he would relish.

"It'd be great to get the opportunity to represent my country, and play against the world's best players in my age group," said Zibanejad, whose performance for Sweden at the World Under-18 Challenge last season was a real eye-opener for NHL scouts. "But for now, I try to focus on today, my next practice and the next game."

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