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Mika Zibanejad Has Exceeded Expectations This Season for New York Rangers

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Zibanejad is having an amazing season and is on pace to accomplish something a Rangers center hasn’t done since the 2007-08 season.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

On October 25th some idiot wrote about testing the trade market for Mika Zibanejad, and 116 days later I am here to address that claim and say “wow, what an idiot.”

In all seriousness, as Zibanejad’s season has gone on I’ve wanted to write this story, and now — after another multi-point game — is as good a time as any to do so.

I am not going to walk back what I wrote then, because that would be spineless. When I wrote the story, I had a good idea of the reaction I would get. It was written because of how the team was playing and my feeling that keeping Kevin Hayes around to take over as the number one center, plus whatever the team got in a hypothetical trade of Zibanejad, would be a good move for the team, in the context of their rebuild.

If recent rumors are to believed, the Rangers could be keeping hold of Zibanejad and Hayes for the foreseeable future, but I won’t believe anything until the trade deadline has come and gone. Hayes is prioritizing both term and his cap hit, and Larry Brooks reported that there’s still a good chance he could get traded and sign elsewhere come July 1. At this time of year things change at a rapid pace, so for now all we can do is wait. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Getting back to Zibanejad, I knew there was a chance he could tear things up to make me look foolish. I do a good enough job of that by myself that the prospect of someone else doing so didn’t cause me any additional worry, but I never thought that Zibanejad would be producing at a point per game pace. I’m probably not the only one who is surprised at how he’s played, but wow are the Rangers lucky to have acquired him and a second round pick for the low cost of Derick Brassard and a seventh round pick ( ͡⌐■ ͜ʖ ͡-■).

Through 58 games, Zibanejad has 26 goals and 32 assists. He is one goal away from tying his career best in goals — a mark he established last season — and he’s already set career highs in both points and helpers. Zibanejad is also on pace to have his best 5v5 season to date, as he’s tallied 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points, of which 23 have been primary. As of this writing his 58 points are 17th among all centers, which puts him ahead of players such as Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tyler Seguin, Logan Couture, and Mathew Barzal among others.

According to Corsica, Zibanejad’s best season to date at 5v5 came in 2015-16 with the Ottawa Senators. That year he tallied 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points; 25 of which were primary. Zibanejad accomplished that in 80 games. Over the final 24 games of this season it shouldn’t be hard for him to tally four more 5v5 goals to set a career best, nor should it be for him to pick up one more 5v5 assist. No matter how you slice it, Zibanejad has been a beast and he’s played like the number one center the Rangers have longed for.

While Zibanejad’s 2018-19 campaign has been great, he’s been on fire since the calendar flipped from 2018 to 2019. The Rangers have played 20 games in calendar year 2019, and the right-handed shooter has scored 15 goals and added nine helpers for 24 points (1.20 P/GP). Of those 24 points, 21 are primary points. When you adjust the slide to even strength situations, Zibanejad has 16 points — 10 goals and 6 assists — and of those 16, 13 are primary points (0.81 P1/GP).

During this span Zibanejad has been a monster with the puck at 5v5 and that shows with his a 52.84 percent Corsi (plus-5.29 relative), 57.14 percent scoring chance share (plus-11.80 relative), and 58.40 percent high-danger Corsi for (plus-10.97 relative). And for the more traditional fan, the Rangers have scored almost 56 percent of the goals share with him on the ice (plus-19.04 relative). Also during this span, he’s sported a relatively normal PDO of 101.7 which is the combination of a on-ice save percentage of 89.66 and a shooting percentage of 12.03. It can suggest that Zibanejad’s success appears to be sustainable, since it hasn’t just been a matter of extreme puck luck.

If he does sustain this scoring, Zibanejad may be the first Ranger center to crack 70 points since Scott Gomez accomplished that feat at age 28 during the 2007-08 season. The last center to crack 80 points was Michael Nylander, which he accomplished as a 34-year-old tallying 83 points playing alongside Jaromir Jagr during the 2006-07 campaign.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Rangers have 24 games left which means Zibanejad would just need 12 points or a point every other game to reach 70 exactly. To reach 80 points, he’d need 22 points or 0.92 points per game the rest of the way. At this juncture 70 is certainly very possible, but 80 would be a bit of a stretch. The wrinkle in all of this is what happens with Mats Zuccarello, because he’s been a big part of Zibanejad’s success.

Zuccarello is in the final year of a four-year, $18 million deal with an AAV of $4.5 million. The Rangers are the only franchise he has played for, and Zuccarello wants to remain with the team. But talks between them haven’t been substantive, so he projects to be one of the top rentals on the trade market. There’s always the potential the Rangers could trade him and attempt to re-sign him, but there’s also the risk that he falls in love with his new team.

There is no easy answer to the dilemma facing general manager Jeff Gorton, but if the Rangers logically have identified Zibanejad as their number one center, it would make sense to consider locking up a player who has great chemistry with him. Zuccarello will turn 32 in September, and there’s always the worry of a player slowing down, but it is worth noting that he’s got 37 points in 44 games played (0.84 P/GP), 23 of which have come in 19 games of calendar year 2019 (1.21 P/GP) At this rate is unlikely that Zuccarello’s price would rise dramatically, and if the deal is in the range of $4 to $5 million a season it is worth considering. But with their rebuild in mind, the team should be looking to see what they can get for him at the deadline, and then reunite int he offseason.

Zibanejad turns 26 on April 18, and has three years on his contract after this season. He will become a UFA at age 29 on July 1, 2022. On July 1, 2019 his no movement clause officially goes into effect, but that doesn’t may not really matter because the Blueshirts likely have no real interest of moving him anyway after watching his growth.

If I have learned anything this season it is that Zibanejad is even better than I thought. I always thought he was a good player who would give a team some decent production at 5v5 and be a beast on the power play, but he’s truly taken things to another level.

Zibanejad showed a lot of promise during his first season on Broadway, and followed it up last year with a decent showing. Year three has been a blast thus far, and there is still time for him to reach even bigger heights.

Prior to this season, Zibanejad was named an alternate captain, and he’s really embraced the leadership role in stride. Given his contract status and the relative uncertainty of other players on the roster, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s on a short list of players to be considered to be the team’s next captain — especially after becoming one of their best players.

The Rangers and their fans don’t have many things to look forward this season given the overall state of the team, but following Zibanejad down the stretch of the season as he pushes for 70 and potentially 80 points will certainly be an exciting story line to follow.

If he were to accomplish either of these feats, just think of his value in a potential... just kidding.

Stats via Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted. Financial information via Cap Friendly.