The new decade is underway and the New York Rangers still remain without a captain as the team continues to push for a wild-card spot. The Rangers utilized four alternate captains for the beginning of the 2019-20 season and the Blueshirts are one of the younger teams in the NHL with an average roster age of about 25 years old.
The Rangers have not had a captain since Ryan McDonagh in 2017. With Mika Zibanejad, Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider and Marc Staal all wearing the ‘A’ for the Blueshirts this season, who on the roster has shown that they are fit and willing to take over the Rangers’ vacant captaincy spot?
Probably the clearest option for the Rangers’ captaincy is Mika Zibanejad. Since being traded from the Ottawa Senators to the bright lights of Broadway, he has played in 237 games and counting for New York over four seasons. He has been a calming and consistent presence for the Rangers’ rebuild and he leads by example on the ice on a nightly basis.
The Swede is already averaging over a point-per-game this season with 31 points in 27 games. In his Rangers’ career so far he has amassed 189 points and has consistently increased his point total each season as a Ranger over the last four seasons. Even in the toughest times in New York, Zibanejad has quietly emerged as one of the leaders in the locker room and one of the top-centers in the NHL. Without a doubt, Zibanejad is one of the best options the Blueshirts have when it comes to naming an eventual captain.
Chris Kreider is another intriguing option for the captain position, if the gritty winger remains with the team past the 2019-20 season. With the long-time Ranger possibly being shipped off at the February trade deadline, though, there might not even be enough time for the Rangers to name him the captain of the team.
However, with Kreider, his numbers as a Ranger solidify his validity to be named the leader of the Blueshirts. He is a home-grown Ranger player and he has played in now 500 total contests wearing the red, white and blue. He was with the team and an integral piece in the Rangers’ 2014 Stanley Cup Final run and also when the Blueshirts finished atop the league with the Presidents’ Trophy during the 2014-15 season.
Kreider has the team experience, the playoff experience and the leadership qualities to be able to lead the Rangers deeper into the future. The only question remains if the winger will be with the team after this season. If general manager Jeff Gorton ultimately decides to retain Kreider in what will most likely be a long-term contract at nearly $7 million per year, then he will be a prime choice for the next Blueshirts’ captain.
There is no denying the skill and hockey-like magic that Artemi Panarin brings to the ice every single night for the Rangers. Without his creativity and precision playmaking abilities, the Rangers might have been looking like a team that earns one of the top draft choices in the spring.
Related: Rangers’ 2018 Draft Class Update
Instead, the Blueshirts are a team that is in the hunt for a playoff spot, mostly due to the excellence of his season-long play. The Russian winger has made the most of the first year of his seven-year, $81.5 million contract. In 55 games, he has totaled 22 goals and 33 assists, good enough for the sixth-most points in the entire league.
The only knock on Panarin is that he has been a Ranger for just 55 games in his career. However, he is under contract for another six seasons after this one. The lethal winger could be one of the most, if not the most, successful free-agent signings in team history, and giving him the captaincy in the future is a possibility.
One of the dark horses that could be named the captain of the Rangers is Jesper Fast. He is not the flashiest of players, nor does he amass an eye-opening amount of points on the scoreboard, but he has quietly been one of the most hard-working Rangers’ over the last half-decade. He has played for the Blueshirts since the 2013-14 season, and has totaled 392 games played with 132 points to go along with his career.
He is currently one of the Rangers’ alternate captains and he’s consistently done whatever has been asked of him. He is a major piece on the New York penalty kill and he has found himself on just about every line combination you can think of over the last couple of years.
Fast is one of the more silent types of leaders the Rangers’ have had, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t deserving of the captaincy. He has earned his spot on the Rangers’ roster year-in-year-out with his ability to be very flexible as a hockey player. Therefore, New York’s front-office should heavily consider retaining him and naming him the team captain.
The Rangers have one of the youngest teams in the NHL and appointing a serviceable captain will become very important for the team’s future in regards to development and leadership. There are many players that are certainly fit to lead the Rangers, but who the front-office will select to lead the Blueshirts remains to be seen.