GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Mika Zibanejad thinks he’s ready. Rangers fans hope he’s ready. And Chris Kreider just looks happy to have his friend and linemate back (and yes, he thinks Zibanejad will bring a big boost, too).
A lot of that was on display Tuesday afternoon, as Zibanejad — who has missed 13 games with an upper-body injury — practiced fully and was embraced at least twice on the ice by a laughing Kreider. He centered Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich, and coach David Quinn said that barring unforeseen setbacks, Zibanejad would be skating with those two on the first line in Wednesday’s game against the Hurricanes.
That will cause some reshuffling, since the Rangers mostly have been successful in his absence, going 8-4-1 in that span. On Wednesday, Quinn kept Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome together — this time on the second line — hoping for more of the chemistry that made them so successful.
Filip Chytil, who centered the second line in the win against the Wild on Monday, was off for a maintenance day but will return Wednesday, Quinn said. Quinn would not say where Chytil will play, only that he will stay at center.
Zibanejad was all too happy to return and pleased, too, that he’ll be able to do it with the two guys he was with when it all started.
“Kreids and Buch are guys I’ve played with, it was my first line I played with when I came to the Rangers,” Zibanejad said. “It’s our fourth season together now and it’s obviously been on and off, but I know these guys pretty much in and out. It’s fun to be reunited with them and hopefully get started tomorrow.”
And though the young Rangers are coming into their own and showed some resilience, along with an affinity for the comeback, Quinn said Zibanejad’s veteran presence could be a stabilizing force. And Quinn didn’t just mean the 11 points he amassed in the nine games before his injury.
“No matter what we’re doing, he’s in a game-like mode — from a practice standpoint to the way he handles himself away from the rink,” Quinn said. “One of the things that our players can lean on is, he’s a guy who was a highly-touted player, who went through some growing pains his first few years and really transformed himself into an elite player at this level. Not only are we going to get what we get on the ice, we’re going to get another aspect of what we need within our organization.”
Kreider concurred and said Zibanejad will be a welcome addition to a team that he believes has shown a “stick-to-itiveness” that wasn’t necessarily present earlier in the season.
“He’s a pretty good player,” Kreider said, smiling. “Obviously, a huge part of our team — on the ice, in the room, on the bench, so that’s awesome. I think there was a pretty good energy around the group because of the last two wins, but also, getting him back today, it’s such an integral part of the group and such a good friend and teammate.”