After kicking off the countdown with players that left their impact on the Rangers before moving on to other pastures, we’re gonna pick things up with a player that still dresses for the Blueshirts today.
#7 Mika Zibanejad
Career as a Ranger: 2016-Present
Numbers as a Blueshirt over the decade*: In 234 games: 85 goals, 102 assists for 187 points (2.53 Pts/60). 48.52 CF% (-3.18 C/60), 50.61 xGF% (0.06 xG/60). 30.2 GAR, 5.7 WAR
*numbers as of 12/28/2019
Best season as a Ranger: 2018-19: 30 goals, 44 assists for 74 points in 82 games played.
After the Rangers were bounced from the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins, everyone felt that changes were coming to a Rangers’ roster that needed a serious retool and it seemed like the ‘Alain Vigneualt Era’ was nearing its end. In July, the Rangers moved Derick Brassard to the Ottawa Senators for a 22 year old Swedish center named Mika Zibanejad and a second-round pick. It was a move that saw the Rangers bring in an immediate replacement for the player they were moving, and get significantly younger without dropping in skill level.
Zibanejad showed flashes of his crazy talent in his first year, but he suffered a broken leg in February that limited him to just 56 games; in his shortened season, he did pick up 37 points on Broadway. However. the Rangers made it back into the postseason and while it was another quick stay, Zibanejad put up 9 points in 12 games.
It was a promising sign for the Rangers as they again made moves to get younger, or as General Manager Jeff Gorton put it “rebuild on the fly” when he traded Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes for 7th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and Tony DeAngelo. Zibanejad now had a clear path to the top line center position and he jumped on it.
In his second season in New York, Zibanejad looked to build on his debut and managed to increase his production while also playing more games than he did in his first season with the Rangers. The leading pivot put up 47 points in 72 games in a season where the Rangers declared that they were going to tear everything down and rebuild. While the points and games played improved, it wasn’t the easiest season for the Swedish pivot as he sustained a concussion that sidelined him for 10 games.
As the 2018-19 season rolled around, there was a new feeling in the air around MSG. The Rangers had fully committed to a rebuild, brought in a new coach, and were ready to get younger. It was this season that Mika really stepped into his 1C role as he exploded for an incredible 74 points while playing a full 82 game for the first time in New York. Zibanejad found great success and chemistry skating with wingers Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich, and the trio quickly became the best line the Rangers could put together.
Now, the Rangers are smack in the middle of their rebuild and Zibanejad is firmly planted as the team’s first line center and a piece for the team to build around over the next few years.
Favorite moment as a Ranger: I could have chosen Mika’s hat trick against the Devils last season but his four point effort in Ottawa in the second game of the 2019-20 season truly stands out among the myriad of highlights.
Not bad for a kid with some sick beats, eh?