Rangers center Mika Zibanejad missed the first week of training camp because he tested positive for COVID-19, he said Monday.
"So I was out for a certain amount of days, and I’ve been going through and sticking through the protocol, and I’ve been skating on my own,’’ Zibanejad said on his Zoom call with reporters after the Rangers’ afternoon practice. "And now [I’ve had my] first real skate with the team, so it felt good.’’
Zibanejad, the team’s No. 1 center and leading goal-scorer in 2019-20, would not commit to being available and fully ready to go when the Rangers open the season against the Islanders on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. But he said he is physically feeling better.
"I feel good now,’’ he said. "I felt good in practice, [have] been feeling pretty good for a certain amount of days now, and we’ve been taking this day- by-day and again, following the protocol and listening to the docs and everyone . . .
"I don’t know exactly what happens for Thursday, but I felt good today, and we’ll see how things are tomorrow and we’ll just go from there.’’
The Rangers are scheduled to be off on Tuesday, but because Zibanejad missed four full practices and both game scrimmages, he likely will skate by himself.
Coach David Quinn said he was in constant contact with Zibanejad when he was unable to practice or be with the team. He wasn’t willing to commit to Zibanejad’s availability for Thursday.
"You just don’t know how you’re going to respond,’’ Quinn said. "The good news is he’s gotten better and better over the last four or five days and was able to start some light activity. We’re not sure what’s gonna happen tomorrow, we’re not sure what’s gonna happen Wednesday or Thursday. But talking to him after practice, I think he felt pretty good about where he was at and how he felt.’’
Zibanejad, 27, had 41 goals and 75 points in 57 games last season despite missing 13 games with a neck injury suffered at the end of October. He added a goal and an assist in the Rangers’ three-game loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Toronto bubble during the NHL’s August restart.
While Zibanejad was unable to practice, third-year forward Brett Howden took his place on the top line between wingers Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich in practices. Howden had a goal and an assist in the first scrimmage and Kreider and Buchnevich played well, with Buchnevich in particular catching Quinn’s eye as the breakout player in camp.
Zibanejad skated on his own Saturday morning with goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who missed the first four on-ice sessions for undisclosed reasons, and then participated in the Rangers’ morning skate Sunday before that night’s scrimmage. He did not take part in the scrimmage.
Zibanejad hasn’t seen too much of what’s happened in camp but said it has been "fun’’ to see No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere and rookie defenseman K’Andre Miller practice.
Zibanejad, who was one of the team’s alternate captains last season, was asked if he’s spoken to anyone in the organization’s hierarchy about whether the team will name a captain this season. The Rangers have not had a captain since Ryan McDonagh was traded to Tampa Bay at the February 2018 trade deadline.
"No talks,’’ he said. "And if there would be [discussions], I don’t think I’d say it. But no, nothing. I’m just, the last couple weeks, just focusing on getting back and getting through all this. And I’m just happy to be here again.’’