Mika Zibanejad is entering his third season as a New York Ranger. The teams top center understands he needs to play better in order for the team to win games.
Mika Zibanejad is a realist, understanding the New York Rangers can only be successful if he has a better season then he did last season. The best way to get that done is to stay healthy for the entire season, something he has been unable to do as a Blueshirt.
The shifty center who plays an energized game was acquired from the Ottawa Senators in the summer of 2016. The organization was looking for a center who could win his share of faceoffs and get the power play to score more goals.
That’s just what he did in his first month and a half in New York. Then the injury bug arrived and bit Mika hard.
In November of 2016, he broke his fibula and missed two months of the season appearing in only 53 games. The following year, just about one year after the broken leg, he suffered a concussion and missed a month of action. Injuries have plagued his first two seasons, but Zibanejad is now healthy and knows wants to have a more complete season.
The Blueshirts are committed to the center long term as the team signed Zibanejad to a five year, $27.5 million contract on July 25, 2017. The new deal includes a no-move clause for the final three years of the contract (per CapFriendly).
After the players skated for their on-ice evaluations on Friday, Zibanejad spoke with the official New York Rangers Twitter account explaining what he expects of himself this season.
“I just want to be better than I was last year.”
“I just want to be better than I was last year.”@MikaZibanejad on his summer, his relationship with David Quinn and what he wants to build on heading into this season. #NYRTC pic.twitter.com/2wL9a6MtYI
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) September 14, 2018
The center understands his role on the team. He is a lock to be the team’s number one center, but his production has to improve as he is sure to be looking over his shoulder with the kids, Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil and Brett Howden, all looking to take advantage of any opportunity they get their hands on.
Zibanejad has some great success early last year on the power play when defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was on the blueline. The two had the Rangers ranked in the top six with the man advance prior to the injury to Zibanejad.
Once he returned in late December things just didn’t click as they did before his injury. A month later Shattenkirk was done for the year with a torn meniscus and the power play suffered as it was not as consistent as it was earlier in the season.
The 25-year-old Swedish center had a good season last year. He scored 27 goals with 47 points. With the man advantage, he recorded 14 goals with seven assists for 21 points when the team was up a man. With Kevin Shattenkirk now healthy, Zibanejad should have a better season on the power play which should lead to more wins for the team.
His responsibility to the team goes beyond scoring goals
Puck possession is a key element to Zibanejads overall game. Faceoffs are magnified in the defensive zone even more and that’s where head coach David Quinn will be calling his number most.
Zibanejad has an average of 51.3 percent on faceoffs with the Rangers in his two years with the team. He wins more than half the faceoffs he takes. This gives his team opportunities to score goals and to keep the Alex Ovechkin‘s and Sidney Crosby’s away from the team’s end of the ice.
Mika will also carry the weight of working with the kids in training camp and throughout the season in New York. This year will be Zibanejad eighth year in the NHL and the experiences he has gathered over that time will be of great use to a lot of the players on the team and those who will be sent back to their minor league clubs.
A player doesn’t need a letter in the front of his jersey to be a leader. Mika Zibanejad is one of many leaders in the locker room and on the ice.
He is a valuable player to this team and just hearing that he want to do better this year is a great way to lead the team into training camp.