The recent trade of Derek Stepan to the Coyotes left Mika Zibanejad as the Rangers’ de facto No. 1 center. Tuesday, the team made sure he would stick around in that role for a while.
Shortly before his arbitration hearing was scheduled to begin, the restricted free agent agreed to terms on a five-year contract worth an average of $5.35 million.
“I’m just super-pumped,” Zibanejad, 24, said on a conference call with reporters, speaking of the upcoming season in general and of his increased role in particular.
“Even before signing, seeing Derek being traded was a little bit of an alert to me that I might get a chance to play a bigger role,” he said. “As a player, you always want more responsibility, a bigger role, obviously, and it’s something where I’m working hard to take advantage of the chance I’m getting.”
Zibanejad said he was hoping to avoid arbitration and was pleased with what he called a “last hour” agreement.
“There’s always been moments where you feel like you can take your game to the next level and that’s what I’m working on in the summer,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s a single guy out there that would say no to an opportunity like this. I’m super, super happy and excited about the next season.”
Zibanejad, a 6-2, 215-pound native of Sweden, was acquired from the Senators last summer in a trade that sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa.
He was limited to 56 games, totaling 14 goals and 23 assists, for the Rangers after missing two months because of a broken leg he suffered in November.
He also appeared in 12 playoff games, contributing two goals and seven assists.
Zibanejad said he transitioned smoothly from Ottawa to New York over the past year.
“It was as I expected and as I was prepared for it, and I loved it,” he said. “That’s why I’m so excited to be back and have this deal done.”