Why Rangers must acquire top-line right wing to spark Mika Zibanejad

NHL: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
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It has been a noticeably slow season for New York Rangers top center Mika Zibanejad. Despite scoring at a pace of .915 points per game, his play has been streaky, and he has relied on the power play to earn 43 percent of his points. His performance at even strength has been underwhelming to say the least.

That being said, he hasn’t really had a viable first-line right wing all season. Acquiring one before the March 8 trade deadline is paramount for general manager Chris Drury.

Over the course of the season, the 30-year-old center has played with inconsistent Kaapo Kakko, the aging Blake Wheeler and bottom-six forward Jimmy Vesey on the right side.

Zibanejad’s last goal at even strength was Dec. 23 against the Buffalo Sabres. Additionally, he is projected to finish with 75 points this season. A concerning stat for someone who registered a career high in points (91) just last season. It is evident that splitting up Zibanejad and Chris Kreider is not very high on coach Peter Laviolette’s list of options, so finding a right wing to best complement them seems to be the best approach.

Related: Rangers trade tiers 1 week before March 8 deadline

Reunion with Frank Vatrano among Rangers options to spark Mika Zibanejad ahead of trade deadline

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Vatrano, who has been on the Rangers’ radar for some time now, would be a perfect fit. Zibanejad often has to deal with the opposition’s best defenders. Vatrano’s speed and shoot-first mentality could open up the ice for Zibanejad.

There’s also some positive history there. Vatrano was a seamless fit with Zibanejad and Kreider when they helped the Rangers reach he Eastern Conference Final in 2022, before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.

Anaheim Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek attended the Rangers 4-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday. That only fueled speculation about a possible Vatrano trade.

In his brief stint with the Rangers, Vatrano registered 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 22 regular-season games and was a vital piece in their run to the conference final, when he had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 20 postseason games.

Back in April of 2022, the NY Post detailed how good of a fit Vatrano was on the top line, mentioning, “Vatrano is a pure shooter, which is the ultimate complement to Zibanejad’s playmaking ability and Kreider’s net-front presence.”


What is even more enticing for the Rangers is how much Vatrano’s play has improved this season. Vatrano has blossomed into a top-line scorer, with an NHL career-high 29 goals. He has three goals in his past two games after scoring a pair against the New Jersey Devils on Friday.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, that means the asking price for Vatrano will be much higher than the first go-around in which they surrendered only a fourth-round pick. This time, they could likely part ways with a first-round pick and perhaps a prospect. The package could increase if they want center Adam Henrique included in the deal. Names like Adam Sykora, Brett Berard, or even Zac Jones, could be on the table as a part of the haul for Anaheim.

With all of this taken into consideration, the move is still worth making. Especially when it has the ability to spark Mika Zibanejad’s game, and not just for this season. Vatrano is signed through next season at an affordable $3.65 million salary cap hit.

Vatrano knows just how good he, Zibanejad and Kreider can be.

“Playing with two guys like Mika and ‘Kreids,’ it was great for me,” Vatrano told Forever Blueshirts at the 2024 NHL All-Star Game. “I proved to myself and to a lot of people that I could play in a top-six role, especially at the highest level in the playoffs.”

Bringing in Vatrano has the potential to be the final piece to the puzzle when trying to solve Zibanejad’s lack of even-strength production. Of course, there are other options if the potential deal falls through. A reunion with Anthony Duclair is an option or and veteran Jordan Eberle is an intriguing name on our updated Rangers trade board.

No matter which route Drury decides on, it should really be a priority to find Zibanejad help. Having more open ice and less pressure will allow him to find his creative playmaking ability and should leave him open for more scoring chances. It is a move that needs to happen if the Rangers plan on making a deep playoff run.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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