Since joining the New York Rangers in July of 2016 via trade, Mika Zibanejad has evolved into the club’s most reliable and dangerous player.
The New York Rangers had started the season in a bad way.
After 12 games, they sat at 3-7-2 in the cellar of the conference. With many questions being asked with no answers up to that point, one Ranger continued to hustle and put points on the board.
That player was Mika Zibanejad.
In the offseason after the Rangers lost two starting centers, one to the expansion draft and the other to a trade, the New York Rangers declared that Zibanejad would be the number one center for the team. They would need his skill and experience more than they ever believed.
Zibanejad, the first round pick, sixth overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, was drafted by the Ottawa Senators. He was traded to the New York Rangers by Ottawa with Ottawa’s second-round pick in 2018 NHL Draft for Derick Brassard and a seventh-round pick in 2018 NHL Draft. He came into the Rangers scene on fire at the start of last season but had an injury which resulted in a broken leg, he was not quite the same when he returned some eight weeks later.
The 2017-18 season has been a complete reversal from last year.
In the first 12 games of the year as the team slumped at every position, Zibanejad scored seven goals with two assists. Of the seven goals scored in this period of games, Zibanejad scored four times on the power play, which was a major component for the Rangers scoring early in the season.
Zibanejad hasn’t just been scoring goals on the ice during the team’s toughest stretch. He was also winning key face-offs in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. In the first 12 games of the season, Mika won 49.3 percent of all the face-offs he took. He was the most reliable player on the team up until this point of the season.
Zibanejad kept finding positives to his game and to the team’s overall play.
The Team Decides to Show Up
His leadership and play started to pay off when the Rangers hosted the Golden Knights on Halloween night. The Rangers rallied for four goals in the third period as Zibanejad scored a goal and had two helpers. His best stat of the night was his face-off percentage, where he won 66.7 percent of all the draws he took that night. This was the first of six consecutive wins for the Rangers. The wins were coming, the goals were being scored by several players now, and Zibaanejad kept on playing his game.
As the Rangers coaches continued to alternate players and line combinations, through this win streak, a high scoring, strong skating line formed for head coach Alain Vigneault. The KZB line took shape.
Chris Kreider-Miika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich has formed to be the Rangers top line on the team. Zibanejad now is the number one center and has the linemates to score goals at the most needed times in a game. Mika has the knack to make the players around him play better. Buchnevich and Kreider are a good example of this. They know where each other is when they are on the ice, but when they are on the bench you will find them talking about they play that just occurred or what they think might work out better on the ice next time.
Sometimes you need to see the numbers to understand how effective a player is. In the case of Mika Zibanejead, his numbers as of right today really speak for themselves.
With 24 games played, Mika has 11 goals, 11 assists for 22 points. Five power play goals and six power-play assist along with two game-winning goals. He has an average of 18:19 time on the ice per game. For a center, there is one more stat everyone looks at. He has won 219 face-offs, which when averaged out, is 50.5 percent.
His linemates are also having an excellent season so far, which should be no surprised. Kreider has eight goals, five assists with four power-play goals and Buchnevich has eight goals, nine assists with four power-play goals. Mika is really bringing the best out of his teammates which will mean good things for the team.
Zibanejad has the respect of the coaching staff and his fellow Rangers. This has been an incredible start to the season, one which all fans hope to see continue. Leaders don’t always need to have a letter on the front of the sweater. Some of the time leaders leave it all out on the ice every night, can help the other guys on the team get better and sometimes a leader can carry a team when things are at their lowest point.
Mika has done all of this in a short amount of time this year. It should be fun to see what he does next to help the Rangers. One thing we know, he will keep battling until the bitter end.