Mika Zibanejad

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Hartnett: Rangers' Mika Zibanejad Set For Career Year If He Can Stay Healthy

Sean Hartnett
October 08, 2019 - 1:51 pm
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Mika Zibanejad was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week after recording four points in consecutive games to open the new season. The 26-year-old center has registered four goals and four assists to lead the league with eight points.

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His electric early play shouldn’t come as a surprise. Injuries are the only thing that’s ever slowed down Zibanejad’s production since he joined the Blueshirts in the summer of 2016.

A hot start during his first season with the Rangers was interrupted by a broken fibula that caused him to miss 25 games. A concussion sustained during November of his second season with the club played havoc with his 2017-18 output.

Last season, an injury-free Zibanejad collected 74 points in 82 games on a pedestrian 32-36-14 Rangers team. While he didn’t contend for any awards, he quietly put together a very impressive season on a rebuilding team.

A point-per-game, or better, season could be in his sights with Artemi Panarin skating on his left side on the first line and Panarin and Jacob Trouba joining him on the first power-play unit. Zibanejad is currently tied for the league lead with three power-play points. As a team, the Blueshirts share the NHL’s best power play alongside the Buffalo Sabres, who also hold a 60 percent conversion rate.

The Rangers’ top line of Panarin, Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich has been on the ice for seven of the Rangers’ 10 goals this season. The trio hasn’t been scored against through two games. Collectively, the line has tallied 15 points (six goals, nine assists).

It’s only taken Zibanejad two games to rub shoulders with some elite company. He is the first NHL player since 1995-96 to record eight or more points through his team's opening two games. Former Rangers’ captain Jaromir Jagr accomplished the feat as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jagr opened the 1995-96 campaign with three goals and five assists. He ended that season with 149 points, only trailing Art Ross Trophy-winning teammate Mario Lemieux’s 161 points.

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Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert was the most recent Ranger to open a season with eight points through the season’s opening two games, having notched eight assists in the first two contests of the 1976-77 season. Gilbert and Zibanejad are the only Rangers to accomplish the feat.

The last NHL player to record four or more points in each of the season’s opening two games was John Cullen of the 1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins. Zibanejad is one of six players in NHL history to post four-point games in each of his team’s first two games of a season. The others: Reg Noble – 1917-18; Syd Howe – 1944-45; Phil Esposito – 1973-74; Wayne Gretzky – 1988-89; and Cullen – 1990-91.

Zibanejad has been contributing in all areas. He’s averaged 6:11 shorthanded minutes per game, helping the Rangers start the season with a 90 percent penalty kill percentage. His 25.5 shifts per game leads Rangers’ forwards. The 6-foot-2 pivot has won 64.4 percent of faceoffs.

When you put together his goal-getting, his playmaking vision, his ability to contribute on special teams, his outstanding two-way sense, his physical strength and his faceoff mastery – the Blueshirts are getting supreme value from Zibanejad’s $5.35 million annual salary.

The all-around Swede appears poised to record a career-best season – as long as he can steer clear of injuries.

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