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How will Rangers' front office assess Mika Zibanejad's season?

Mika Zibanejad #93 of the Rangers celebrates his

Mika Zibanejad #93 of the Rangers celebrates his power-play goal at 14:29 of the second period against Carter Hart #79 of the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on March 17, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

In his last 15 games, Mika Zibanejad has scored 12 goals with 10 assists, and the Rangers are 9-4-2 in that stretch.

In his first 15 games, Zibanejad scored one goal with two assists. The Rangers were 5-7-3.

Zibanejad does many other things for the Rangers besides score and assist on goals, of course. He plays on the No. 1 power-play unit and the first penalty-kill unit; he gets the fourth-most ice time on the team, and most of any forward (20:12 per game), and he usually matches up against the opposing team’s top line.

But clearly, the team is better when he is scoring and creating goals.

 

Zibanejad turns 28 on April 18, and is under contract for one more season after this one. So when management looks to upgrade the roster over the summer, how will they assess their No. 1 center’s 2020-21 season? He has 15 goals and 18 assists in 42 games at this point, which projects to 20-24-44 over 56 games, and to 29-35-64 over a normal 82-game schedule.

But how will they account for those first 15 games? If they write off that slow start, then Zibanejad has 14 goals and 16 assists in the last 27 games, which is a pretty good pace.

Zibanejad’s slow start was much discussed and analyzed, but no one knows the reason for it. He did have COVID-19 during training camp, so that may explain it, but Zibanejad himself didn’t have much to say about what was different about him then, and he isn’t saying much about what is different about him these days.

"I said that to you guys when we talked in the beginning, that I just (had to) kind of trust myself and keep working, and that's what I've been doing,’’ Zibanejad said after Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Devils, in which he scored the game’s first goal. "Obviously, when the puck goes in, you get a little more confident, and you get the great support from your linemates as well. And I don't know, I just feel like the pucks, they go in now. That's nice to be able to contribute to it.’’

For his Rangers career, Zibanejad has averaged 33.7 goals and 36.8 assists per 82 games, though that average is puffed up by the 41 goals and 75 points he scored in 2019-20.

But what is to be made of that 2019-20 season? Was it a breakout year for an ascending player entering his prime? Or was it some kind of outlier? Zibanejad himself has suggested 2019-20 was the kind of season where everything he shot went in. And indeed, his shooting percentage last season was 19.7, compared to 12.7 in each of the two previous seasons. This season, his shooting percentage is 12.5.

Blue notes

The four-game series between the Rangers and Devils shifts to Madison Square Garden for the next two games, Thursday night and Saturday at 12:30 p.m., before going back to Newark for the finale at 3 pm. Sunday… The Rangers took Wednesday off… April 14 was the 93rd anniversary of the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup. On that date in 1928, Frank Boucher scored two goals and the Rangers beat the Montreal Maroons, 2-1, to win the Stanley Cup Final series in five games.

New York Sports