Under Pressure: Mika Zibanejad


This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

For a team that’s spent the past few years living in the present — and at times sacrificing the future to stay competitive — last month’s trade that sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad was notable in that the Rangers got younger, not older, while saying good-bye to their second-leading scorer.

In other words, it was a move to strengthen the Rangers’ future, even if it meant that the Senators, in the words of their general manager, got the “better hockey player at this point in time.”

Brassard is indeed a pretty good player. The 28-year-old had 27 goals and 31 assists last season. On the Rangers, only Mats Zuccarello finished with more points (61). Derek Stepan was third with 53 points. Keith Yandle, now in Florida, was fourth with 47 (meaning two of the Rangers’ top four scorers from 2015-16 are on different teams now).

Of course, Zibanejad is coming off a fairly production season of his own. The 23-year-old had 21 goals and 30 assists in 81 games for the Senators. He had a similarly production campaign in 2014-15 (20G, 26A).

“This is a younger player who is almost six years younger, has two 20-goal seasons, and is a player that we think is heading to the prime of his career,” Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said. “The ability to get him, a younger player, someone who is fast, plays well in his own zone, can do a lot of things for us.”

The trade also gave the Rangers some additional cap space — cap space they could theoretically use to address the defense, should an opportunity present itself.

But for the deal to be deemed a success for the Blueshirts, Zibanejad will still need to produce. After being drafted sixth overall in 2011, he’s used to high expectations. He has high expectations for himself.

“I’m quite excited to be able to get this chance with the Rangers and I feel like I’m at that moment in my career to be able to do that and hopefully break out here,” he said, per NHL.com. “I feel like I’m solid all-around, but I’m not happy just yet with what I’ve accomplished and where I am. I’m just looking forward to every year that goes by to get a little bit better and make a bigger impact every year as well.”

Zibanejad can become a restricted free agent next summer, so he’s got a contract to play for, too.

Related: Pavel Buchnevich is looking to make the leap