The New York Rangers have found their number one center in Mika Zibanejad, who was enjoying the best stretch of his career before the NHL season was postponed.
Merely saying that Mika Zibanejad was on a tear before the NHL’s hiatus due to the coronavirus outbreak would be a vast understatement. The only correct term to describe the way he was playing for the month prior to the unprecedented pause is simple: dominant.
Whether it’s the resumption of this season or the start of the next one, this last stretch of dominance will force Zibanejad to carry lofty expectations on his shoulders once the Rangers start playing meaningful hockey once again, and rightfully so. According to Natural Stat Trick, Zibanejad has led the NHL in both goals (22) and points (33), since February 1st.
Zibanejad has scored at least one goal in 17 of his last 21 games and has ridden his hot streak to the best goals per game mark in the NHL at 0.72. On top of that Zibanejad has also skyrocketed his point total to 75 in just 57 games, which is good for 1.32 points per game, the seventh-best mark in the league.
As exciting as his recent performance may be, fans have to stay realistic and realize we cannot expect that pace to continue once play resumes. Zibanejad is an all-world talent who has flown under the radar as one of the most underrated players in the league, and although I fully expect him to post a minimum of 80-points per year over the rest of his Rangers tenure, we cannot expect him to produce at the same clip he was when the season came to a halt.
With that being said, what are realistic expectations that we can set for Zibanejad? As I just mentioned, the 80-point mark is likely the minimum level of production we can expect from the 26-year-old. Zibanejad is a pure goal scorer, but once his linemate Chris Kreider is back on his wing along with fellow linemate Pavel Buchnevich, his assist totals will rise as well.
I fully expect consistent 40 goals and 40 assists production from Zibanejad, numbers that no one can sneeze at. Although Zibanejad still has yet to reach his ceiling, his current 1.32 point per game pace would have him finishing an 82-game campaign with 108 points. That is a lofty number for any player to reach year in and year out, despite how exceptional his talent level may be.
When the NHL announced it had paused it’s 2019-2020 campaign, the Rangers found themselves sitting just two points back of a playoff spot, due to the unprecedented surge Zibanejad had found himself on. It is unclear if this season will resume, but if the games do start up again, the Rangers push will largely be determined by Zibanejad’s goal-scoring abilities.
No player wants to see an elongated break in play when they are rolling as well as Mika was, especially when the break is unexpected and unknown such as this current hiatus. Although it may feel like it’s light years away, there will be Rangers hockey again.
When that happens, we cannot expect Mika Zibanejad to be the same otherworldly self he has been the last 20 games, but we can expect him to be the number one center the Rangers had been searching for, for years.