GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Mika Zibanejad admitted it was hard to wrap his mind around the idea at first, that Ottawa was no longer his team, that he was headed outbound for New York to dress in Rangers clothing. But the shock to his system soon wore off.
The 23-year-old center has embraced last month’s trade and hopes to give the people what they want -- and what he wants. He’s shooting for a new goal after scoring a combined 41 times over the past two seasons with the Senators.
“I’m waiting and I think people are waiting for my breakout year,” Zibanejad said in his first meet-the-local-press session Friday at the MSG Training Center. “That’s what I’m hoping for. That’s what I’m working towards to happen. I feel like at this stage of my career, I’m ready for that.”
The Rangers are counting on that.
They dealt their leading goal scorer and second-leading point producer last season, center Derick Brassard, and a 2018 seventh-round pick for the 6-2, 222-pound Zibanejad and a 2018 second-rounder. Besides getting younger, the Rangers added size, speed and a more physical player than Brassard, who turns 29 next month.
“Obviously, he was a big part of it,” Zibanejad said. “Stepping into that role, I’ll try to do as good as I can.”
Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has said Zibanejad “is just scratching the surface at age 23.” He was on the second line last season, his fifth with Ottawa, and posted his best numbers in goals (21), assists (30), points (51), game-winners (seven) and faceoff victory percentage (50.5 percent).
Zibanejad, the sixth overall pick in 2011, said his expectation is to do “the same things as last year but better. A big guy down the middle.” He said he wants “to be a little bit more of a threat.”
“I think point-wise, obviously you want to get higher every season … goals-wise and assists-wise as well,” Zibanejad said. “But I think [mostly I want] just more consistency in my game. I think with the consistency in my game, the points will come as well.”
This native of Sweden had just built a new house in Ottawa. Oh well. Now he isn’t sure what he’s going to do with it.
“At least we got to live in it for a couple of weeks,” Zibanejad said, although he plans to stay there this month.
Soon he can call the Garden home.
“You always looked for that date when you were coming here,” Zibanejad said. “Playing at Madison Square Garden, it was a fantastic atmosphere every time you played there. … It’s always going to be packed and it’s always going to be busy. It was tough.
“But I think a team like the Rangers, when we were playing against them, it’s really easy to feed off the crowd. I think that’s one of the things that I’m really looking forward to. … I can’t wait to play on the home side.”