The Rangers were faced with a hard reality this past summer. A no-trade-clause and a high salary were the main reasons the Blueshirts had to trade their number one center and fan favorite Derek Stepan to Arizona. The Rangers knew this was coming, so they traded Brassard in the summer of 2016 for Mika Zibanejad. The move was to not only bolster the center position but it was also to get younger. In his first year on Broadway Zibanejad only played 56 games and was able to amass 37 points in those 56 games. The Rangers put their faith in him to be a number one center this summer with the trade. Both the team and Zibanejad himself had the confidence that he would thrive in this spot.
Through the first sixteen games of this year’s campaign, the 24-year-old Swede has 17 points, which if you do your math correctly that means he is a point per game guy right now. He is thriving in his role as a number one center. He has had Chris Kreider to his left and the young Russian Pavel Buchnevich to his right. It is extremely noticeable how much better Zibanejad makes his new linemates. Through 16 games Buchnevich has 6 goals and 6 assists with Zibanejad as his center. Buchnevich is known as a sniper so Zibanejad feeds him and Buchnevich has been able to finish so far to date, including a feed from Zibanejad Monday night against Columbus that put the Rangers ahead.
One of the most encouraging things about Zibanejad play has been the power play. Kevin Shattenkirk was brought in to stabilize it and he has. Zibanejad has been money on the power play with five of his eight goals coming when the Rangers are a man up. He has an absolute bomb of a shot, as he sits by the left faceoff dot and just fires away when he gets the opportunity too. The Rangers finally have that one-time option on the power play which is something they have desperately needed in the past few years.
Mika Zibanejad has done his job so far of being a number one center. The trade made for him two summers ago was a steal by Jeff Gorton and his staff. The Rangers are trying to “rebuild on the fly” and Zibanejad is a huge part of that. He has a very bright future and we can expect for him to be a part of the Rangers for a very long time.