Rangers will identify their leaders during training camp
The New York Rangers have been without a captain since Ryan McDonagh was traded at the deadline in 2018. They spent the rest of that season and all of last with a myriad of Rangers sporting an “A” on their jersey. This year per a source, the Blueshirts are looking to solidify who will lead this team into the future once training camp concludes.
David Quinn’s Blueshirts had several players with the “A” sewn onto the left side of their chests. Marc Staal, Mats Zuccarello, Jesper Fast, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider all wore one. With the trade of Zuccarello, the uncertainty of some veteran’s futures, and the impending selection of a new captain there will be some changes.
One thing that may continue at least to start the season is the use of home and road assistants. While not my preference, this is the most likely scenario for next year. That means we should see Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast with “A”s on the road and Marc Staal and another Ranger with one on at home.
When it comes to who will have that honor, I fully expect Artemi Panarin to be that Ranger. When the Breadman made the decision to star on Broadway this past July, it made him the team’s best player once he finished penning his signature on the contract. The expectation is that he will lead them on the ice with dazzling plays and clutch goals so naturally that should be reflected on his sweater. The fact that the team is going to bank on three other Russians in the near future (Vitali Kravtsov, Igor Shesterkin, Pavel Buchnevich) it makes total sense.
The New Captain
When the Rangers acquired Mika Zibanejad in the summer of 2016 for the popular Derick Brassard they were banking on potential. In his debut campaign, there were signs the 23 year old could live up to the hope but suffered a broken leg that derailed his season. The following year was not very good and he finished with just 47 points in 72 games. This left some to wonder if he should be traded while his value was still perceived as high.
Last season, the Rangers patience and the guidance of David Quinn saw the highly drafted prospect start to realize his potential. In 82 games he scored 30 goals and 74 points and at 26 years old he is just entering his prime. Now with the additions of both Panarin and Finnish sensation Kaapo Kakko, Zibanejad could be flirting with 90 point seasons over the next few years.
That alone is not reason enough to make him the next captain. However, once you realize that sooner rather than later, players like Chris Kreider and Marc Staal will be moving on it becomes more obvious. He will eventually become one of the longest tenured Blueshirts and that holds weight in the decision. Add the fact that the team has a very heavy European flavor (the roster is expected to only have 8 players representing North America on it next season) it makes naming Zibanejad the leader of the future as the logical next step.
Finally, he’s earned it and he deserves it.
Bonus Content: Rangers Crystal Ball
As I mentioned earlier, the Rangers will likely experience more changes starting next season. Veterans Chris Kreider and Marc Staal will likely be moving on and the expansion draft has the possibility of losing a player like Jesper Fast, hence leadership will change again. When it does, I fully expect Jacob Trouba to be Mika’s other alternate with Panarin continuing as one.
The future leaders of this team are too young for that responsibility now, but names like Kakko, Kravtsov and Andersson will surely be at the top. And other leaders like Nils Lundkvist and K’Andre Miller are not even competing for roster spots until 2020. While this is very early speculation, it is also an educated guess and one I’m sure will be playing out before our eyes over the next 5 years.