The 2017-18 season was not a very good nor enjoyable season for the New York Rangers, but if you’re looking for any bright spots, look no further than the Rangers’ number one center.
Mika Zibanejad was one of, if not the, best player on the Rangers this season and firmly established himself as the team’s top center. At just 25 years old, he is fulfilling his end of the bet that the Rangers made when they traded for him, signed him to a five year, $26.75 million dollar extension, and elevated the Swedish center to that top line role after trading Derek Stepan in the 2017 offseason.
We talked about Zibanejad a lot this past season, quite a lot in fact, because he’s earned all the praise we can give him and then some. Anchoring the incredibly fun, if underutilized, “KZB” line, Zibanejad went to establish himself as a clear-cut number one center putting up 47 points in 72 games played — improving on his first in New York in almost every major statistical category.
As you can see in the above chart, Mika saw marked improvement on the ice almost across the board; the only dips were in his per 60 numbers since he played 16 more games this season than in his first on Broadway.
Zibanejad quickly established himself as a lethal option on the power play, slotting into the “Ovi Spot” and using that great shot of his to be a constant threat on the man advantage.
Whenever Zibanejad was on the ice, the play was more often than not heading in the right direction, and ZBad was usually the one leading the charge for the Rangers to change that.
There is a caveat though — it’s in the game played. In both seasons with the Rangers, Zibanejad suffered major injuries; a broken fibula in November in 2016 and a concussion a year and five days (November 25th, 2017) later. These injuries limited the amount of time Zibanejad was on the ice for the Rangers and the severity of the injures meant a long recovery time; it was clear that Mika did have some issues getting back to full steam after returning from both of the those injuries. Even with those set-backs, Zibanejad was still a major factor for the Rangers in all areas of play.
If it’s hard to read that image, let me clarify it for you; Mika Zibanejad led the Rangers in some of the most important possession metrics and did so handily. There’s nowhere for Zibanejad to go but up from here.
With the Rangers heading into uncharted waters, they’ll look to the young Swedish center to lead them on the top line along with his favorite wingers Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider.
Final Grade: A
Positives: A clear cut top line center at just 25 years old. What more can you ask?
Negatives: Mika should probably take that last week of November off next season so we can see what he can do when fully healthy.
2018 Report Cards: Marc Staal / Mats Zuccarello / Ryan Spooner / Rob O’Gara / Jimmy Vesey / Brendan Smith / Vladislav Namestnikov / Brady Skjei / Steven Kampfer / Jesper Fast / Alexandar Georgiev / Pavel Buchnevich/ Ondrej Pavelec / Kevin Hayes