After a full season without an official leader, the New York Rangers decided against naming a captain for the 2019-20 season. However, the Rangers already have an established leader with Mika Zibanejad. He’s the offensive leader of the NHL with eight points, including a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators. Coming off his best season yet, the Swedish native is making a heck of an impression. He’s worthy of filling a captain’s skates.
Mika Zibanejad Playing Like a Captain
Zibanejad quickly rose to favourite for the “C” upon Mats Zuccarello‘s departure from the Rangers in 2018-19. Zuccarello, earning multiple Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award wins, was an easy yes for Rangers fans. However, Zibanejad’s quiet resolve and consistent leadership have propelled the Rangers through their rebuild and (almost) out the other side. He’s also voiced his excitement for the off-season acquisitions and draft selections, especially Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko. The Swede is working especially well with Panarin already with assisting each other on two goals last game.
Zibanejad’s hat trick against his old team was a perfect example of his ability to mesh with other players and deliver a stellar performance. His third goal, a complete toe drag before popping the puck into the net was nothing short of elite. To see Zibanejad bringing this team together already, is a huge testament to why the Rangers should revisit their decision to name a captain.
Leading the Pack
Coming off a 74-point season, the multitude of young players on the Blueshirts look up to Zibanejad for both his talent and Rangers pride. He’s blossomed through adversity and is clearly set the same expectation for his teammates. What sets Zibanejad apart from other contenders for the captaincy, such as Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast, is his consistency. Fast and Kreider have been on the team longer but their futures with the Blueshirts are far from certain.
Kreider has failed to reach his potential, albeit partly due to a shocking blood clot to conclude the 2017-18 season. However, even before his health took a turn, his consistency was lacking. One day he would show up and skate circles around the opposition, other days he’d have lacklustre passing skills and performed behind-the-play. At the end of the season, Kreider will be an unrestricted free agent with play that hasn’t solidified a re-signing with the Rangers. To make him captain now, with so much hanging in the balance, would ultimately be poor for moral.
Fast has always been a hidden hero with undeniable hockey sense. The Swede is a playmaker but that doesn’t make him fit for the captaincy. Fast has floated in the 20-30 point range over the duration of his NHL career, not adding and more or adding less. In order to propel this exciting group of newcomers to the next level, they need a player who has done the same. Additionally, Fast will also be an unrestricted free agent to close out the 2019-20 season.
Zibanejad joined the Rangers in 2016-17 by way of the Ottawa Senator and a Derick Brassard trade. The Swede performed well in Ottawa, especially in 2014-15 and 2015-16. To close out his stint in Canada, Zibanejad tallied 51 points, including 21 goals.
Zibanejad’s debut season on Broadway was cut short due to a nasty leg break, limiting him to only 56 games. Throughout his shortened stint, Zibanejad tallied 37 points. His following year, he added more Ranger 16 games to his belt, but only 10 more points. It’s not surprising that Rangerstown wasn’t all-in on Zibanejad as leader number one heading into 2018-19. However, his resiliency and clear dedication to making his time in New York as productive as possible propelled him to his current, elite level.
Zibanejad rose to the challenge of the Rangers rebuild. Instead of jumping off a sinking ship, he continued to work hard, elevate his play, and prove his loyalty for the team. Zibanejad himself even won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award last season. His speed on the ice has made him a perfectly fine top center when the Rangers were in dire need for one. He’ll likely remain in that role with Ryan Strome close behind. Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil are also promising young competitors at the Rangers center.
No matter what the Blueshirts decide, there’s no question that Zibanejad is performing like there’s a “C” on his shoulder.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 03: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers skates during their game against the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden on October 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)