New York Rangers: Zibanejad is the new top center

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09: Mika Zibanejad
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09: Mika Zibanejad /

The New York Rangers have been looking for a new top-line center since trading Derek Stepan. They have found one in Mika Zibanejad.

The search for a number one center can finally come to an end for the New York Rangers. Mika Zibanejad is going to be their guy for the 2017-2018.

For a while, it looked like the Rangers might trade for a center to fill Stepan’s void. There were rumors swirling around guys like Alex Galchenyuk and Matt Duchene but nothing ever came of it.

The fact of the matter is that the Rangers don’t need to sell out for a Duchene or a Galchenyuk. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have them on the roster, but trading for one of the two would likely gut the team of some serious assets.

The Rangers would benefit from adding another center of any caliber. However, it doesn’t need to be a number one center because Zibanejad is ready for that role.

Related Story: Mika Zibanejad 2016-2017 Report Card

Zibanejad and Stepan

A lot of the frenzy for a number one center was driven by looking for a guy like Stepan. Zibanejad is a lot closer to playing at the level Stepan did than people think.

Last year, Stepan played in 81 games notching 17 goals and 38 assists for 55 points. He was also a +19, won 47% of his faceoffs, and had a 50.7% CF. Stepan was reliable in the playoffs too, averaging a point every other game.

On the other hand, Zibanejad played in 56 games notching 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points. His season was limited due to a freak landing into the boards that broke his leg. Zibanejad was a +9, won 52% of his faceoffs, and had a 49.9% CF. Zibanejad

Zibanejad had, and has had, great playoff runs too. His only playoff run with the Rangers featured nine points over the course of12 games. He has 17 points in his 28 career playoff games to date.

Let’s compare the two. Zibanejad played 25 less games, but was on pace to come pretty close to Stepan in point totals. His +/- is short of Stepan’s but you could argue that was on pace to come close too. The CF difference comes down to .7%, and Zibanejad won 5% more of his faceoffs.

All in all, they are pretty darn similar in comparison through last year. The only kicker is that Zibanejad is three years younger, carries a $1.15M cheaper cap hit, and hasn’t had as many full seasons to prove his consistency.

Related Story: Predicting who will replace Derek Stepan

Zibanejad’s New Deal

So, Zibanejad looks to be playing at the same level as the Rangers old number one center. His new contract only makes the deal sweeter for the Rangers.

Zibanejad’s new deal is worth five years with an AAV of $5.35M. Stepan’s old deal was worth an AAV of $6.5 and only had only four more years on it.

You could argue two things; the Rangers are saving money on their number one center by getting a player of the same caliber for significantly less and they are getting another year at the better price.

Maybe Jeff Gorton realized this and that helped him part ways with Stepan? It’s worth noting that by trading Stepan, he was able to bring back Anthony DeAngelo and a draft pick used to take Lias Andersson seventh overall.

Did Gorton think that by trading Stepan he would still have a number one center in Zibanejad? It would certainly make the trade seem more sensible. There is still a hole to fill at center, but it’s much easier to find any top nine forward to fill that hole than it would be to find a top center.

Next: Mika Zibanejad Contract Comparables

We will probably never know what Gorton’s true motive was. But it’s clear that the Rangers have found their number one center for now, if not for years to come.