New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad enjoyed a career year last season, but is ready for his best campaign yet in 2019-20.
NHL.com constructed a list of top-20 centers in the league. There were plenty of notable names on this list—Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and many other stars. However, someone who didn’t make that list was New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad.
Last year, Zibanejad posted career highs in goals (30), assists (44) and points (74). That’s four more points than San Jose Sharks veteran, Logan Couture, who is 17th on the list. That’s the same amount of points as Washington Capitals center and fellow Swede, Nicklas Backstrom, who is 18th on the list.
Granted, it’s a tough list to put together; the NHL deploys a lot of talent, after all. But if this list is evidence of anything, it’s that Zibanejad is flying under the radar. Maybe the makers of this list are waiting to see if Zibanejad can duplicate his incredible production from a year ago. Maybe then he will have his place among the best centers in hockey. With the season he is coming off of and the additions the Rangers made this offseason, it’s safe to say that Zibanejad will be productive once again.
The $1,000,000 question remains, “What will the Rangers No. 1 center do for an encore?”
Now, we can’t talk about Zibanejad without talking about his new first linemate, Artemi Panarin, the big fish in summer’s free-agent class. Not only did the Bread Man leave money on the table to become a Ranger, but he is also coming off a career-year in points with 87 (28 goals, 59 assists). Panarin was good enough to earn a spot on the NHL’s other list of top 20 wings at number eight. Unlike Kappo Kakko, it is a certainty that Panarin will be paired on one of the first line wings with Zibanejad.
Two guys coming off career years in Panarin in Zibanejad isn’t a bad place to start. The thought of these two on a line together should be one that sends chills down the spines of opposing defensemen and goalies.
Who is going to play on the other side?
As it stands right now, Chris Kreider is still a Ranger. However, the Rangers need to make cap space and his name has come up in trade talks. So, hypothetically, if Kreider gets traded, who do they move to the big-boy line?
Could it be Pavel Buchnevich, who just signed a bridge contract at two years, $3.25 million? Maybe it will be Filip Chytil, who was breaking Ranger records last year. Maybe even second-overall pick, Kaapo Kakko, if he breaks out early and is the player we all expect him to be. No matter who it is, Zibanejad, as well as Panarin, will make it work.
Not only did Zibanejad have career highs (at the moment) in goals, assists and points, but he also tallied a career-high in power-play points in 23 (11 goals, 12 assists).
A Rangers power play that rode in the middle of the pack (17th overall) got some more help, not just in Panarin, but in the supposed “quarterbacks” with Jacob Trouba and young prospect Adam Fox. Even Tony DeAngelo, who improved greatly in his second year on Broadway, might find himself running the man advantage. It’s hard not to imagine the power-play not improving this next coming season.
So Zibanejad, who is a good mix of skill and size, is coming off a career year, now has one of the NHL’s best wingers alongside him to fill the void his buddy Mats Zuccarello left and has some more good pieces around him on the power-play. He is being set up for more success than ever before.
So let’s make this prediction: yet another career year. Assuming Zibanejad plays all 82 games again, he will post 30 goals and 60 assists, for 90 total points. That’s 16 more points than his previous total the year before. He and Panarin will eventually develop great chemistry and they will both be a deadly duo the NHL will have to take reckon with.
When Zibanejad came to New York in the trade for Derick Brassard, this was who he had in mind to be his No. 1 center. Not just for now, but for the future. Zibanejad is now on the upswing of his career. He is 25-years-old and now in his prime.
So be excited fans; expect a lot of great things from this guy now and moving forward.