Zibanejad Leading Rangers On and Off the Ice

It is no secret that Mika Zibanejad is the New York Rangers’ best forward. Filled with a team that had young, inexperienced players, the Rangers needed someone to step up. Zibanejad answered the call, and showed that not only can he be a leader on this team, but he can be their top scorer as well.

Over the last 10 years, the Rangers have been missing a top scoring forward. Every top team that consistently contends for a Stanley Cup has a top scorer. The Rangers have only had one player since the 2009-10 season eclipse Zibanejad’s 74 points from the 2018-19 season: Marian Gaborik, who scored 86 points in the 2009-10 season and 76 points in the 2011-12 season. The only other player who came close was Rick Nash, who scored 69 points in the 2014-15 season.

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad
New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Zibanejad’s Stellar 2018-19 Season

Going into the 2018-19 season, the Rangers had many questions that would be answered by the end of the year. One major question was, “Would Zibanejad rise up to the challenge of being the number one center for the team?” By the end of the season that question was answered. This was his best season overall, also setting a career high in goals and assists. This showed the organization that he has the ability to be a great point scorer. Zibanejad showcased that he can produce at a top level against other team’s top lines.

With his improved play, Zibanejad also reached a career high in minutes played in which he averaged 20 minutes and 34 seconds on the ice. This showed an increase of over two minutes of ice time from the season before. This increase in ice time could have resulted from the growing confidence that coach David Quinn had in him.

Carey Price, Mika Zibanejad,
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price stops a shot by New York Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

This also could be a result from his increase of power play time, where he displayed that he can be a valuable scorer and setup man. He tallied 11 goals and 12 assists, which is a good balance on the power play. Between the balance of power play points and even strength points, Zibanejad has proven to be a great playmaker with a goalscorer’s eye.

Developing into a Leader

Another major question that has been answered for the Rangers is, “Who will develop into a major leader?” With a team like the Rangers, there is an abundance of young talent on the roster fighting for minutes. Although from that young talent comes inexperience. There are a few older players on this team who have shown leadership, but none that bare the captain’s “C.” Players like Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist have been leaders on this team for a long time, and they have helped the younger veterans become leaders. Some of those young experienced players who aren’t on the back stretch of their careers are Brady Skjei and Chris Kreider.

At 26 years old, Zibanejad is a player who has had enough experience to be a young veteran presence on this team. He has had playoff experience with the Rangers and the Ottawa Senators. He has also grown into a leader in the locker room. The young players respect him and look up to him as role model. Due to all of this newly-gained respect and experience, Zibanejad would be the perfect piece to build around. Not only does he still have three seasons left on the five-year deal he signed in 2017, but he has shown major improvement in his first two years.

Leading by Example

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The Rangers gave Zibanejad the alternate captain’s “A” at the beginning of the 2018-19 season, and he embraced it. By taking this role, he has proven that he can be a leader for this team. Zibanejad is a silent leader much like Ryan McDonagh before him. The example he has shown during the games and throughout the season is the type of leadership the younger talent needs around them. It brings the team confidence knowing they can rely on that player night in and night out. His leading by example will encourage his teammates to become the best versions of themselves by working just as hard.