What if Mika Zibanejad is the trade deadline center the Rangers need?
Mika Zibanejad broke out in a big way last night. After six weeks of looking lost out there, Zibanejad started to get things going. In January and February, Zibanejad had just two goals and four assists. In March, he had a goal and four assists in March before last night, while looking much better on the ice. Obviously we know what happened last night. With all the talk about center depth at the trade deadline, what if the Rangers just needed Mika Zibanejad to return?
Top scoring gets fixed
The Rangers have been struggling to score all season. Zibanejad’s struggles were mainly to blame here, as Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, and Ryan Strome have all had good-to-solid seasons. However the Rangers go as Zibanejad goes, as his production at even strength and on the powerplay opens up ice for others.
Assuming the real Mika Zibanejad has shown up, then the top-six finally gets complete scoring. This will open the ice up for others up and down the lineup, as defenders need to pay more attention to Zibanejad.
This should also open up powerplay scoring, although there are separate deployment issues there. In theory, a more dominant PP1 draws the better penalty killers, opening the door for a potent PP2 to take advantage and balance things out.
Getting the kids going
Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko have looked good this season. But the scoring numbers aren’t there. It’s a legitimate concern, even if we’ve been preaching process over results. The process is there for both kids, with Kakko looking like a completely different player from last year.
Both Lafreniere and Kakko are sporting pretty terrible luck statistics, with their on-ice SH% at 6.85% and 5.91%, respectively. This is actually down from Kakko’s 6.31% last month, but up from Lafreniere’s 2.08%. Kakko doesn’t have many points to show for it, which would explain the decrease a bit, but Lafreniere has three goals and four assists in that span.
Both are still very low in that regard, especially with their skill levels. With Zibanejad getting going, it may open more ice for this duo to start putting points up. The process is there, and perhaps some regression to the mean, coupled with Zibanejad getting going, will lead to more points for them. There’s still half a season to go.
The Rangers powerplay has been atrocious. There are some deployment concerns, mostly with four righties on PP1 and no one-timer option on the right wing. Getting Zibanejad going takes the production stress off Panarin and distributes it evenly with Zibanejad. It was Zibanejad who thrived in the Ovechkin spot last season, but it’s been Panarin in that spot this season.
Moving Zibanejad back to his normal spot moves Panarin to right wing. Even if it isn’t a lefty, Panarin is good enough that it likely won’t matter. That was the setup the Rangers had last year, and it worked. A confident Zibanejad opens that as an option.
Plus, as mentioned above, it will draw better penalty killers to that unit. This possibly opens up more depth powerplay scoring.
They still go as Zibanejad goes
Expecting six points a night from Zibanejad isn’t realistic. But getting a normal Zibanejad back –meaning his production from 2018-2019– isn’t a tough ask. The Rangers would essentially be getting their 1C back at the trade deadline in the form of a real Mika Zibanejad. It may be too late for this season, but it answers questions for next season.
A real Mika Zibanejad solidifies the top-nine for the rest of this season and next. Now about that pesky SH% across the board for the Rangers…that’s something for another time.