Editor's Note: We are very excited to welcome Johan Barrender back to The Copper & Blue. Last year, Johan gave us our first detailed looks at Paajarvi and Anton Lander and was responsible for our introduction to Jimmy Hamrin, which led to interviews with Paajarvi and Lander. He's back with a series of interviews and scouting reports on the top Swedes eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He kicks off his series with an interview with Mika Zibanejad.
Last season I gave you some reports on Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, and Linus Omark. This year I'll take a look at some of this year's highly-touted Swedish prospects. It looks like a good year for Swedish players as early projections have three players (Larsson, Rask and Landeskog) going in the top ten, and that a few more Swedes will be called before the first round is over.
Throughout the season I will bring you reports and interviews with these Swedish players, starting today with two-way center Mika Zibanejad, who's been steadily climbing the draft boards, and is projected as a potential late first or early second round pick.
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After a great showing at the U-17 World Championship, Zibanejad started climbing the boards and another good showing at the Ivan Hlinka tournament this summer cemented his status as one of the best European centers eligible for the 2011 draft.
Mika is a true two-way center with a great work-ethic. He's equally skilled at both ends of the ice and has excellent hockey vision for someone so young, which when combined with his passion for hockey and knack for stepping up to the level of his competition, gives him all the tools needed to one day become a center in the NHL. I spoke to Mika over the weekend to give you guys a better understanding of him and his game:
Copper & Blue: The season is underway; what are your thoughts on your play so far coming off the Ivan Hlinka tournament?
Mika Zibanejad: I think I've done pretty good so far when it comes to my play, although maybe the points haven't been there as much as I would've liked. But that's not something I focus on; I just keep playing the game and the points will come eventually.
C & B: I've been impressed by the fact that you are a true two-way center. Is the defensive part of your game something you've worked on from an early age?
Zibanejad: Kind of. I know how important the defensive aspects of the game are, and it's a part of my game that I focus on and work on. I also watch a lot of hockey and see that as practice as well.
C & B: What do you see as your biggest strengths?
Zibanejad: I think that I'm a big and strong two-way center with a good shot and decent speed. I'm also a leader on the ice, and think it's important to lead by example. I'm extremely competitive whether it's face-offs or working along the boards. I always want to win, no matter what.
C & B: What do you need to work on?
Zibanejad: My skating. I need to become more explosive and work on my acceleration. There are of course a lot of areas to work on, but that's my main focus at the moment.
C & B: Have you had any thoughts about going over the pond and playing in the junior leagues in Canada? Do you think playing in a smaller rink and the more physical play would be a good experience for you?
Zibanejad: I would be lying if I said that the thought hadn't crossed my mind, but at the same time, you need to look at yourself and ask yourself if you're ready. It would absolutely be a good experience to get a feel for that type of play, but I see both pros and cons, although I do believe my style of play would fit in.
C & B: Then again, there is always the chance to play against men in the Swedish Elite League. Have you gotten any indication from your coaches about whether that might happen anytime soon?
Zibanejad: No, nothing yet. I try not to think about it. My focus is on where I am at the moment; it would of course be fun to get the chance, but right now I just go all out and hope for the best.
C & B: Most projections have you going in the late first or early second round. I understand that playing in the NHL is your goal; how do you think your style of play would work in North America?
Zibanejad: I think that I would fit in pretty well with my size and shot, but then again, I haven't really played that much over there so it's hard for me to say. Nonetheless, I believe and hope that I would fit in well.
C & B: Overall it's shaping up to be a very good Swedish draft. After playing with and against a lot of the other Swedish players, who do you think has the best chance of an immediate impact?
Zibanejad: That's a hard question because there are so many good players, but it's also a question about fitting in. Still, I believe that Gabriel Landeskog has good chance to make a quick impact.
C & B: Finally, most of our readers haven't had a chance to see you play. Could you describe your style of play and tell us about any player you model your style of play after?
Zibanejad: I'm a big and strong two-way center with decent speed and a good shot. I'm a player that gives his all in every line change to contribute to the team. If there is one player that I look up to a little bit more than others it has to be Sidney Crosby. It's maybe not that I model my game after him, but he's a big source of inspiration for me. He's an extremely talented hockey player. To me, he's the total package. I especially love his attitude; he's a hard worker that always gives a 100%, but you can always tell that he's having fun, which is very important to me.
I would like to thank Mika for taking the time to answer my questions. I will be checking back with him after the World Juniors for an update. Later this week, I'll be back with a new look at another of this year's top Swedish prospects.