The New York Rangers have not had a captain since the 2017-18 season. The last man to wear the “C” was defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who just lifted the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Before McDonagh, it was Ryan Callahan, Chris Drury, Jaromir Jagr, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Messier again, and so on. All told, there have been 28 captains in franchise history. The question that’s been on everyone’s mind since McDonagh was traded to the Lightning on Feb. 26, 2018 is who will be number 29?
But the captaincy question doesn’t end there.
Over the offseason the Rangers parted ways with a few players who were all respected as leaders in the room. Marc Staal, who had been an alternate captain since the 2010-11 campaign, is now in Detroit. Jesper Fast, another alternate captain and the epitome of a players’ player, is now a Carolina Hurricane. And Henrik Lundqvist, the team’s emotional leader and the center of the solar system in the locker room, is a Washington Capital. That sentence still doesn’t feel right to write, read, or speak out loud.
As a result of these moves, the Rangers have something of a leadership vacuum in the room that goes beyond choosing new guys who get to wear a letter on their chest. The good news is that there are plenty of candidates who should be ready to step up and fill that void, including guys who were already considered leaders and favorites to be the team’s next captain.
The two frontrunners for the captaincy are Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. Both players have worn letters for this team and both have qualities you want to see in a captain. So, let’s break down the three leading personalities who likely represent the new nucleus of leadership in New York.
Kreider is a homegrown, lifelong Ranger that is respected around the league for his strength and conditioning. More importantly, he has demonstrated a great deal of maturity, wisdom, and other leadership qualities over the years. We also know the front office is smitten with him, as evidenced by the seven-year deal he signed in February to stay in New York.
We’ve heard comments about Kreider being “captain material” for years and he’s been an alternate captain since 2018-19. Although his nationality shouldn’t factor into the equation, it’s worth mentioning that he’s American and that the Rangers have had several American captains in recent history. So, he’s got that going for him.
Kreider comes off as thoughtful in his interactions with the media and is tough as nails on the ice. He’s also proven himself to be a capable mentor to younger players, including Pavel Buchnevich. That is a big deal on a team filled with youngsters.
At 29, Kreider is older than Zibanejad. He was a key player during some of the prime years of the Lundqvist era and has 523 games of regular season experience and seven years of playoff experience under his belt. Clearly, there’s a lot to like about him being the team’s next captain.
Kreider’s resume is damn impressive, which speaks volumes about Zibanejad being the other clear choice for captain. Zibanejad is two years younger than Kreids and under contract for only two more years, but he’s also the more important player to the team’s future. Generally speaking, he’s also the more talented player.
Zibanejad has been a revelation since joining the Rangers in 2016-17 as a result of one of the best deals in Rangers history. He has scored 112 goals in 267 regular season games since becoming a Ranger and if not for some hard luck with injuries would likely be an even bigger deal than he is now. The guy scored five goals in a game last year. Does that mean he should be captain? Well, no, but c’mon.
Like Kreider, Zibanejad is a thoughtful, intelligent guy who can come off as a bit soft-spoken in his interactions with media. Though he may speak quietly, Zibanejad carries a big stick with his play on the ice. He kills penalties, he doesn’t take shifts off, and he has a knack for ramping up his game when the team needs him. He’s a special player and a special person who has passions outside of hockey, which should be considered a strength in this discussion. Any team would be fortunate to call Zibanejad their captain.
The Rangers have had just one European-born captain — Jagr — in team history, so it would be a big deal for Zibanejad to get the nod.
In all likelihood, Trouba will wear an “A” next season. There’s nothing that says one of your captains has to be a defenseman, but a lot of teams seem to take that approach. And, it goes without saying, he’s the best candidate on the blue line by a wide margin. The last time the Rangers didn’t have a d-man wearing a letter was the 2007-08 season when the captains were Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, and Brendan Shanahan.
Trouba checks off a lot of boxes on the “Hey, I bet that guy will wear a letter” list. He’s committed to the team long-term, the front office sees him (and is paying him) to be the new foundation of the defense, he’s tough, and he comes off as a good team guy. Trouba has also been in the league for seven years despite being what many consider to be a young veteran at 26. That’s what happens when you start your NHL career in your late teens.
There’s also the fact that Trouba radiates with Mandalorian-protecting-baby-Yoda energy. A punishing physical presence on the ice, he is ready to go mama bear on anyone taking liberties with his teammates. Again, that doesn’t necessarily make him captain material but it is something you typically consider a trait of a good teammate. And the evidence of him being a great teammate goes well beyond that.
Of course, Kreider, Zibanejad, and Trouba aren’t the only players who are natural leaders who could be wearing a letter next season. A case can easily be made for Artemiy Panarin deserving a letter on his jersey and there are those who feel Ryan Strome should be in that discussion too. If Panarin wants that responsibility, it should be his to turn down. He’s never been a captain in the NHL before, but that’s no reason why he shouldn’t be one now, at the age of 29. After all, these are very much Panarin’s Rangers now that the Lundqvist era is over.
So, who do you think the next man to wear the “C” should be and who should be the team’s alternate captains? Let us know what you think in the comments.