Rangers News & Rumors: Lafreniere, Zibanejad, Lundkvist & More

The New York Rangers got their first win of the young 2021-22 NHL season. They’re 1-1-1 thus far, and aside from the first game, a 5-1 thrashing from the Washington Capitals, they’ve played well. Alexis Lafreniere scored the go-ahead goal in the 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadians in Montreal. Mika Zibanejad signed a contract extension. Bluehsirts rookie Nils Lundkvist given the Lars-Erik Sjoberg award and more.

Lafreniere’s Homecoming Goal

Lafreniere scored his first goal and point of the season Saturday night against the Canadiens at Bell Centre. He took a nice feed from Zibanejad and put the puck past Habs’ goalie Jake Allen. Zibanejad took a breakout pass from Adam Fox at center ice, Lafreniere turned on the jets and went hard to the net to receive Zibanejad’s crossing pass, and the Rangers were up 2-1 halfway through the third period. They finished off the Canadians when Kevin Rooney iced the game, scoring an empty netter with less than a minute left.

Lafreniere had the most shifts (22) and ice time (16:16) he’s had so far this season. He grew up in a suburb of Montreal, St-Eustache, QC. His family was in the stands and were elated when he put the winning goal past Allen. The Rangers’ 2020, No. 1 overall pick paid the price for the snipe by getting clipped with a stick to the chin from a Canadian’s defender and needed a couple of stitches.

Related: Rangers’ Lafreniere, Kakko & Miller Poised for Breakout Seasons

Zibanejad’s Special Week

Zibanejad signed an eight-year contract extension worth $8.5 million per year and $68 million total. At the end of this season, he would have been an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and probably commanded upwards of $10 million on the open market. The number of years may seem like a stretch for a 28-year old, who already has 10 NHL seasons and 605 games under his belt, but the Rangers still got him at a bargain.

Rangers’ president and general manager (GM) Chris Drury said this after getting the deal done, “since joining the team in 2016, Mika has emerged as one of the premier players in the NHL. In addition to being a great player on the ice, Mika is an exemplary person off of the ice. We are fortunate to have him as part of our Rangers organization and are excited that he will continue his career in New York.”

Mika Zibanejad
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 14: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers celebrates his game-winning goal at 2:53 of overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Since joining the Rangers, Zibanejad has 136 goals and 283 points in 323 games. He’s been one of the top scorers on the Rangers since coming over from the Ottawa Senators. He also logs over 20 minutes of ice time (TOI) per game while manning the No. 1 power-play unit and killing penalties.

The Rangers’ center said this after signing, “I don’t know if words will ever be enough to describe how I’m feeling right now,” Zibanejad wrote in an Instagram post. “The feeling of putting on the New York Rangers jersey is the best honour and I can’t believe I will get a chance to do that for another 8 years. I’m extremely happy, humbled and motivated for what’s ahead” (From Rangers, Mika Zibanejad agree to eight-year extension, New York Post, 10/10/21).

To cap everything off, Zibanejad was one of three players named to Sweden’s men’s ice hockey team for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Zibanejad has World Junior experience with Sweden, but this will be his first Olympics.

Lundkvist Best Rookie at Camp

Lindkvist was named the Lars-Erik Sjoberg award winner for being the top rookie at training camp, according to media personnel. He was in a tough battle with Zac Jones for the final roster spot on defense. Most thought he’d end up with American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, Hartford Wolf Pack for a third or possibly half of the season before being brought back up to New York.

Nils Lundkvist, New York Rangers
Nils Lundkvist, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, having such a good showing throughout camp earned him a spot on the big club. Lundkvist had three points in the exhibition season and logged tons of ice time. He’s played in two of the three regular-season games thus far but hasn’t scored yet.

The Lars-Erik Sjoberg award honors the memory of Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who was the Rangers chief European scout for eight years and was the catalyst to convince the Rangers organization to start drafting Europen players.

Kakko and Strome

On Sunday morning, the Rangers announced that Kaapo Kakko was placed on IR (injured reserve) with an upper-body injury. Meanwhile, Ryan Strome is out indefinitely with a COVID-19 protocol-related absence.

Postive Vibes as the Season Gets Started

Lafreniere gets the winner in his homecoming game while smiling through a couple of stitches. Zibanejad had a week to remember. Lundkvist shined in camp, named top rookie and made the squad. Stay tuned for more news about Kakko and Strome.

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