Mika Zibanejad is the New York Rangers number one center and has been one of the best at the position for the last two years now. This season we have to ask the question what’s up with Zibanejad’s slow start?
Last year, Mika Zibanejad had 41 goals and 34 assists, for 75 points in 57 games. He had a +/- rating of nine, which is a pretty great stat line. Mika produced great in the offensive zone and he was very reliable and smart in his own end of the ice too. Mika’s great in all aspects of the game having 43 even-strength points, 27 power-play points, and five short-handed points, he had 49 blocks and 51 hits. That stat-line is a clear indicator of why he was the Rangers’ number one center last year. For some reason though he is having some early-season struggles.
The question surrounding Mika on most fans minds this year is, what’s up with Mika’s slow start? Many fans would like to know why Mika has been struggling so much to start the season. In Mika’s first nine games he has a goal and an assist, tied for third-worst on the team in points, and to add to that he has had a +/- rating of -4 tied for worst on the team with Jack Johnson, who is widely considered the worst player in the NHL. Taking all that into account, stats do not mean everything in this situation, the stats won’t tell you how this team of youngsters all look up to him as a leader and mentor, it won’t tell you that every team still fears him.
After his incredible season last year, teams have started taking him more seriously understanding with two back to back 70+ point seasons, he is no joke. This has led to him facing tougher opponents which has made it harder for him to score. Zibanejad missed the start of training camp due to Covid-19, many fans suspect this to be the main reason for his struggles thus far. Everyone has seen fairly often in the last year people getting the virus and not making a full recovery, this could very well be the case with Mika. Another reason could be the club somewhat publicly falling apart in the last week, one could only speculate what has happened behind closed doors since the start of training camp within the club.
Working with hypotheticals, something personal which the public does not know could be occurring, however, in the age of social media typically nothing is private anymore. If this were the case there would probably be some form of a report on that.
As fans, we never like to see our teams or players perform poorly. You always want to see them succeed as a team and have great success as a player. Mika has been provided with all the tools to have a spectacular season for the third season in a row. He gets first-line minutes, power play time, and penalty kill time having a time on ice average of 20:33, which is second amongst forwards, only behind league MVP finalist last year Artemi Panarin, and fourth on the team, so we can rule out ice time.
Playing on his left-wing is longtime teammate Chris Kreider. Kreider has played with Mika for the majority of his tenure with the club. Who is playing on his right side has been a different story. After the trading of Mats Zuccarello, his right-wingers have been moved around fairly often. last season long time Ranger Jesper Fast, (who left as a free agent this summer) and Pavel Buchnevich, were his wingers, and he played great with them. Contrasted to this season, he has had three different wingers on that side in nine games. those wingers are Pavel Buchnevich, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko. He has played his best with Pavel Buchnevich, could that be due to familiarity and a solution to these lower stats?
It seems that either Mika is in a funk right now, or he has not fully recovered from Covid-19, either way, the ruthless fans of New York will only excuse his play for so long before they turn on him, so for now we just have to wait and hope for the best.