Mika Zibanejad is Captain material

Kreider and Zibanejad (Getty images)

Being named captain is an honor like no other. You are the leader of your team and someone who commands a great amount of respect in the locker room from management to coaches to your teammates. Some are vocal leaders who know exactly what to say to spark their team. Some lead by example and let their play on the ice dictate how the team should respond. They are the first ones to receive the Cup from the commissioner after a long tough road through the playoffs.

Throughout New York Rangers history, there have been 27 captains ranging from the legendary Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate, to the “Messiah,” Mark Messier and one of the best American born defenseman of all-time, Brian Leetch. To be the captain of an Original Six franchise is something very special and the 28th captain in New York Rangers history should unquestionably be Mika Zibanejad

Zibanejad was acquired during the 2016 offseason in a trade that many now agree will go down as one of the best in Rangers history. The Ottawa Senators sent the Rangers Zibanejad and a 2nd round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft for Derick Brassard and a 7th round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. From his first season in New York, Zibanejad established himself as a fan favorite with a booming shot and the ability to make those around him better players. Zibanejad was a star on the rise and took the pressure of playing in New York in stride. 

Fast-forward to last season, when not much was expected of the rebuilding Rangers, and we saw the full potential of Zibanejad start to show its face. He led the team with 30 goals and 74 points and established himself as a true number one center in the NHL. He showed off his playmaking prowess and was always driving the play when he was out on the ice. In a season of change, Zibanejad showed he could be counted upon to be an offensive catalyst for a club who lacked one and while wearing an “A” on his jersey for the first time last season, showed he could be a leader for club who hadn’t had a captain since Ryan McDonagh got traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Zibanejad topped off his included 2018-19 season by winning one of the most prestigious awards a New York Ranger can win and that of course if the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. Former winners include Adam Graves, Wayne Gretzky, Brian Leetch, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Callahan and the King, Henrik Lundqvist. All guys who have won it are proven leaders in their careers.

“The winner of the 2019 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award is a guy who came out every day, had a smile on his face and made sure he put it all on the ice. Number 93, Mika Zibanejad.” – Connor McDonald

The fans vote on the SMEEA during a season where the losses piled up and the Stanley Cup seemed very far away, Zibanejad captured the hearts of the Garden Faithful. He had this to say after the ceremony: 

“… You see the names that have been on that trophy before and how much it means to this city and to the guys and the fans. Obviously, its a huge honor.” – Mika Zibanejad

Zibanejad is not only one of the team’s best players and an all around class act, but he is also multilingual. Why is this important for the Rangers going forward? The Rangers are an extremely diverse group right now with players on the squad from the USA, Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland just to name a few. He has also shown a willingness to learn new languages, especially Russian, as his main linemate this season will be the Breadman, Artemi Panarin.  This might seem simple but anytime a leader shows that they’re willing to do something just a little extra, like speaking to someone in their native tongue, it speaks volumes about their character and makes their teammates feel a bit more at home. Zibanejad goes into detail a little more in the video below and also speaks on the upcoming season. 

Notice Zibanejad’s response here when NHL.com reporter Dan Rosen mentions that both Rangers President, John Davidson and Head Coach David Quinn said the goal of this season is to make the playoffs. “That’s the goal every year,” Zibanejad says with no hesitation. That’s exactly what you want from a leader. In a year where questions surround the team, Zibanejad has the mindset of playoffs and make no mistake, that confidence will rub off on the rest of this team as the year rolls on. Rosen also asks Zibanejad about expectations surrounding the team this season and he mentions that team is ready to continue their growth and getting better and that’s all they can control. 

When a reporter asks if a captain should be named this season, Zibanejad says no and that he thinks they have a great leadership group in the room. Mika also noted it’s not up to the players anyway and that management will make that decision when ready. Should they decide to make Zibanejad the Captain, you can be sure there won’t be any qualms from his teammates.

In the video, he also makes a point in that video to highlight the impact Panarin will have and how proud he is of Buchnevich’s growth as well. Once again, it may be a small thing, but lifting up a guy like Buchnevich and making Panarin feel just a little more welcome here are things leaders do.

During this training camp, the Rangers will take a look at their team and see how their leadership group for the coming year will shake out. Both Davidson and Quinn have mentioned at various times that a captain will emerge and sometimes there might not be one for awhile. The Rangers have now been without one since the 2018 trade deadline but make no mistakes, if Zibanejad keeps up his level of play, his willingness to go beyond for his team and brings the fire every night, the choice will be easy for the coaching staff and management to make. 

Since his arrival on Broadway, Mika Zibanejad has proved worthy of wearing the diagonal red letters across his chest. He has shown he can lead this team offensively and he has shown the leadership qualities necessary for a player of his importance. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but you can rest assured that when the time does come, Zibanejad’s name will be the first one talked about to possibly wear the “C” on his chest.

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