NY Rangers 2019-2020 Player Report Card: Mika Zibanejad

Future captain?

What a season it was for Mika Zibanejad. Entering the season with “doubts” that he could be a 1C, he torched the critics from the drop of the puck in the first game of the season. Despite an injury, Zibanejad finished among the league leaders in goals (41) and finished with a line of 41-34-75 (15-12-27 on the PP) in 57 games. He was the league leaders in goals per game (0.71) and had he continued that pace throughout an 82 game pace, he would have flirted with a 60-goal season. His five-goal game to beat the Washington Capitals in a must-win game gave me the inspiration to toy with those who doubted him with a tongue-in-cheek post. The comments in that post are still my favorite.

Suffice it to say, Zibanejad is the 1C of the future, or at least until the Rangers land Jack Eichel for a bargain. He’s an elite goal scorer with a howitzer of a shot.

It’s unlikely he continues shooting 20% (his career average is 13%), but he should be in the 40-50 goal range for a few more seasons. The question now is what he does away from the puck. This is the are where Zibanejad can improve.

Zibanejad is not a guy that coasts away from the puck, but his impact without the puck is a bit muted from a possession/driving offense standpoint. He has a positive impact, but comparatively to the rest of the team, it’s not as big as Artemi Panarin’s or even Pavel Buchnevich’s. That’s fine though! Zibanejad’s role is to put himself in a position to score, and you need balance on a team. He’s not a detriment on the ice without the puck like previous Ryan Strome seasons (not this past one for Strome, wow), his role is to score.

Defensively is a little concerning, since the team is actually performing better defensively without Zibanejad on the ice. The area of focus for me is the high slot area, which is a high danger zone for shots against. There is a noticeable difference between the two, which suggests that teams are getting more shots from the high slot while Zibanejad is on the ice, compared to other NY Rangers centers. However given how bad the Rangers were at the start of the season, and Zibanejad’s injury, we need to look at how he trended over time.

Zibanejad, like everyone, had a terrible defensive start to the season, and also had a dip at the end when the Rangers were dealing with injuries. The flat line from October to November is his injury duration. Immediately upon his return, the Rangers started having significantly better success, and his xGF% rose along with the team. This might suggest that the shot location heat maps above are a little skewed to early and late season struggles for the entire team, and not necessarily indicative of a full season of play. Regardless, it’s still something to note in this career season for Zibanejad.

Given Zibanejad’s incredible performance on special teams, let’s take a loot at how he performed there, aside from the 15-12-27 line.

Powerplay offense….wow. Let’s just leave it at that.

As for penalty kill, this is in line with the conclusion above that Zibanejad’s defensive work could use some fine tuning. That’s a large (24%!) difference in penalty kill effectiveness without Zibanejad. Again – this is ok! The offensive production far outweighs the defensive concerns, and as the Rangers get more balanced with better depth, perhaps Zibanejad sees less time on the PK.

Overall, Zibanejad’s career season is what propelled the Rangers to the play-in round for this year’s playoffs. You can’t just dismiss the defensive areas for improvement, but it can be glossed over because of his scoring pace. He’s clearly the 1C of the future, so hopefully he improves in those areas.

Grade: A.

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  • Just give him an A+ … I mean if you (Dave) give Strome an A, then Mika should be an A++ — but let’s distinguish him from Panarin’s A++ and bring it down one tiny notch to an A+.

  • Even if the Rangers get Eichel in a trade, Mika is their #1 center. When Eichel has proved that he can carry a team like Mika has, then we can talk about him being #1.

  • Mika is spectacular. I keep pinching myself, but still can’t believe Gorton got away with larceny in getting him. He is everything Rangers fans could have hoped for, that is for certain. A+++

  • Mika should maybe advise his countryman Lias that refusing invitation to playoff training camp is not the road back to the nhl

    • He never was.. After that medal tossing meltdown, no teammate would have ever want him to rep the “C”.

      Olympics and winter sports are built around that kind of tradition.

      • it’s funny because, at the time that happened, a lot of people were saying that it showed competitiveness.

        • Yeah fans here and there from places like Blueshirt Banter don’t count. That place never had fans who who played the game, they cherish beer league’s and bystanders over there. Btw He was getting dragged by the entire NHL fanbase for the most part. Ex hockey players-Canadians, Euros and Americans from Reddit ripped him a new one.

          I know for a fact that none of the talking hockey heads praised him. Meanwhile top Youtube channels stayed ridiculing his actions. Nobody who ever played winter sports or in hockey tournaments would dare act like that was a sign of “leadership” so I’m not buying what you say here. Talk shows like Tim and Sid even clowned him for doing that. Elliott Friedman/Brian Burke certainly didn’t paint it as you recalled and the hockey community loves those two.

          The % fans that appauled him were the one’s who thought he was going to be given a “C” without a team vote. Lol sorry bro but I remember the backlash like it was yesterday.

          • So, after all is said and done, the Rangers drafted Lias for his intangibles, not his talent.

            And drafting “200 foot players” with the 7th overall pick has 3rd line player ceiling written all over them.

          • When I found out that he dipped to go back Sweden, I rewatched his draft moment. The announcer’s were truly shocked that JG allowed his draft team to talk him into taking him.

            The only talking head who seemed alright with it was Pierre McGuire lol. He said at the time that he couldn’t picture Lias as a top 6 center…. But could end up being more of a mold from Chris Kunitz as a winger. He thought he might be able to have a place on either Zib or Hayes flank.

            Rangers should have tried to get his linemate Linus Sandin. A couple of Sweden natives from Reddit claimed he is a much better version of Andersson.

            So far what he’s shown at this level, 3c label would be a stretch.

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