In the span of a week, Stephane Da Costa has gone from the NCAA to the NHL.
The highly coveted forward signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators on Thursday and is expected to play in Saturday's game against Toronto, according to general manager Bryan Murray.
Just last week Da Costa was competing for Merrimack College in the NCAA tournament. Once the team was eliminated, he hunkered down for two and a half days of meetings with NHL teams before eventually deciding to sign with Ottawa.
"(Just) like every other kid I'm sure, it was my dream to play in the NHL," Da Costa said on a conference call. "Of course it was stressful, but I got the right place and the best fit for me I think."
Da Costa grew up in Paris but moved to the U.S. as a teenager to pursue a career in hockey. The 21-year-old passed through the NHL draft a couple times without being selected, making him a free agent.
Agent Wade Arnott of Newport Sports said that 16 NHL teams expressed legitimate interest in the forward during the last week.
The Senators believe Da Costa is good enough to step right into their lineup and he's thrilled about getting the chance to do that.
"I thought it was the best opportunity, a great fit," said Da Costa. "I heard a lot of good things about it - about the city, the organization. I thought that was the best fit for me."
Even though he signed a two-year deal, the contract will expire after next season. The first year is the current one.
Ottawa has done a nice job of bolstering its lineup with NCAA prospects in recent years, having also added current forwards Jesse Winchester (2008) and Bobby Butler (2010) as college free agents.
Lew Mongelluzzo, Ottawa's NCAA recruiting co-ordinator, credits Murray and owner Eugene Melnyk for making the organization an attractive place to play.
After watching Da Costa at Merrimack this year, he came away very impressed with what he saw.
"He's a special player," said Mongelluzzo. "Outstanding instincts and hand skills, which goes along with the fact that he has great vision and he sees the ice. ... He's a real leader on the ice.
"There's an opportunity for this kid to step in and be a second-line centre and we think he can do that."
Da Costa finished his two-year NCAA career with 30 goals and 90 points in 67 games.
He is the first native of France ever to sign with the Senators and will become the first person from that country to play in the NHL this season. Da Costa should be extremely comfortable in Ottawa's bilingual environment - as evidenced on Thursday's conference call when he took as many questions in French as in English.
He represented his country at last year's IIHF World Hockey Championship but isn't sure if he'll return to the event next month in Slovakia. France has been drawn into the same pool as Canada.
"It depends on the (Senators)," said Da Costa.
For now, his focus remains on trying to make a good first impression with his new team. An exciting week will only get better when he skates in his first NHL game.
"The city, everything was attractive with Ottawa," said Da Costa. "It's a great organization, great management. Everything is good."
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