It has been quite the road for Daniel Muzito-Bagenda in his journey towards a career in the National Hockey League.
The 20-year old was born and raised in Sweden, and played his early hockey years there. Muzito-Bagenda would eventually play with one of the best hockey programs in Sweden with MODO, where he suited up for the under-18 team for most of the season. For the next three years, Muzito-Bagenda became a good, young power forward putting up some good numbers with MODO. He would even get the call up to the Swedish Hockey League team a few times in the 2014-15 season.
At the end of the 2014-15 season, Muzito-Bagenda would make the decision to make the jump to North America and join the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League.
“My agent had some good contact over here,” Muzito-Bagenda said after his session of Sabres development camp on Friday. “I had a request to come over and felt like, ‘why not try it? I’d like to play juniors over here.” I had a good year so I think it worked out well. It was a good year for me.”
It would take Muzito-Bagenda some time to adjust to the different rink sizes in North America, but he got off to a decent start with three goals and an assist in his first ten games.
“At the beginning of the season, I was a 4th line guy,” Muzito-Bagenda said. “It took some time to adjust to the smaller rinks and stuff like that. I think I figured it out after a couple of weeks. I climbed in the lineup and showed who I was. I came here to play as a top-six forward, and that’s what I ended up doing in the second half. I’m happy with that.”
At the turn of the calendar year, Muzito-Bagenda’s play took off with 13 goals and 23 points in the final 30 games. He would go from playing bottom line minutes to playing some top-line minutes with some players like Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, and Sabres first round pick, Alex Nylander.
Muzito-Bagenda would finish his 2015-16 campaign with 20 goals and 37 points in 63 games. His 20 goals was good for third on the team, while his 37 points put him fifth among his teammates.
In the playoffs for Mississauga, Muzito-Bagenda was one of the best players in the Steelheads’ opening round series with the Barrie Colts. In the seven-game series, Muzito-Bagenda scored six goals and would finish second on the team with 10 points. Only Nylander would finish the playoffs with more points (12), but Muzito-Bagenda would net just as many goals as his teammate did.
Muzito-Bagenda would enter this year’s draft, but would go undrafted. However, shortly after the draft, he would get the opportunity of his life as he inked a one-year deal with the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League.
“I’m really happy [to sign] my first pro contract,” Muzito-Bagenda said. I couldn’t be happier right now. I feel great, I want to get things started right away. I hope I get a good start [in Rochester].”
While with Rochester, Muzito-Bagenda will likely have a chance to play with his fellow Swede in Nylander. When asked about Nylander as a teammate, Muzito-Bagenda spoke very highly of the 18-year old.
“He’s a highly skilled guy,” Muzito-Bagenda says of Nylander. “Not a very big guy. He’s a tall guy, not very physical, but he has the skills to get around people and he has a good hockey IQ and good vision. He’s perfect [for Buffalo], and he’s gonna be a top-end [player] for sure.”
Another teammate of his in Mississauga that is now property of the Sabres is East Aurora native, Austin Osmanski. Osmanski has always had a great relationship with both of his Swedish teammates ever since his journey began in the OHL.
“Early on, I stuck with the two Swedes,” Osmanski said following his session on Friday. “On our first day of training camp in Mississauga we were waiting for a medical test and I sat down next to him. I [noticed] his accent and stuff, and I thought he was a funny guy. He’s another good friend of mine on the team. He’s another good teammate, always working hard and trying to get better. Before the draft, Buffalo had us do some fitness testing and I was right there with him. To see him sign with Rochester after the draft was pretty cool. To have him and Alex [Nylander] I think it would be cool meeting back up with them in a few years. Hopefully we can all get back together.”
Now as his journey shifts to the AHL, Muzito-Bagenda will look to make the most of his time with the Amerks in hopes of making his NHL career a reality.
“I just want to get to know the guys at the beginning of the season. [I want to] show who I am, what kind of person I am, and start to get in the group as soon as possible.”
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