Mike Zibanejad came to the New York Rangers in an offseason trade that saw center Derick Brassard going back to the Ottawa Senators. The 23-year-old Zibanejad will likely step right into Brassard’s now-vacant role of second line center and will also be expected to take on more of a defensive role as well.
The Rangers went out and traded an older center whose coming into the last segment of his career for a young talent pivot with significant upside. There’s no guarantee that the young Swede can fill such a role off the bat, but he certainly has the potential. This will be an interesting season, because while Zibanejad is the clear cut front runner to fill the top-six center role, there are a ton of forwards who could push him into a funny position if he isn’t at his best when training camp gets underway.
Getting a younger player for an older one is usually a good thing, but coming to a new town can be hard, particularly for a younger guy. In short, this should be a great move for the Rangers, but it could go south if the organization mishandles the situation.
Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario for Zibanejad would be him being a 50-60 point center who helps on the penalty-kill. His numbers have jumped every season, so it isn’t out of the question to expect him to produce a bit more in the coming year. The young Swede is promising, plus his size and defensive ability give him the potential to be more of a well-rounded player that his counterpart Brassard.
The best thing that could happen for Zibanejad would be him coming in finding some chemistry off the bat, getting on the score sheet consistently and finding a way to become a presence on the Rangers penalty kill. This all seems obvious, but one must note that it isn’t uncommon for players to get to a new town and melt under new pressures and expectations. Proving to the fans and coaches straight away that he’s a terrific talent will allow him to grow as a player and not worry about the other pressure that can erode at someone’s confidence.
Worst Case Scenario
The hard part about trading a well-established player for an up and comer is that it carries the expectation that the younger athlete will be as good or better than the player traded. What’s hard for Zibanejad is that he’s not viewed as a guy still growing, he’s penciled in to be the second line center for the Rangers in October, and will always be compared to Brassard, who New York fans loved for his timely goals and breath-taking talent during his tenure in New York.
The fear is that the pressure of needing to be a big time player off the bat could hurt Zibanejad and keep him from reaching his full potential.
The worst thing for Zibanejad would be him having an early slump; this Rangers team will have tons of new faces so while they try to find the chemistry, they will need guys like Zibanejad play well right out of the gate to establish an identity. What’s scary about the situation is that some players can be rattled by New York, particularly if they come in cold and end up on the wrong side of the fans. The expectations have gotten to guys like Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik in the past and it would be a shame to see a good young players development side-tracked by expectations. That said, if the young Swede is steady out of the gate he could be a Ranger for a long time.