Zibanejad deservingly wins Rangers Team MVP

Over a year ago, Mika Zibanejad signed a contract extension that would pay him $8.5 million through 2030. At the time, he could’ve waited until the Rangers played a full 21-22 season. One in which he set career highs in assists (52), points (81), plus/minus (30), and power play goals (15).

That was before he led the team in scoring during a postseason that saw them reach the Eastern Conference Final. Zibanejad finished with 24 points (10-14-24). He proved he was worth that extension.

It’s now considered a bargain. Fast forward to April 2023. With his 30th birthday approaching, Zibanejad put together his best season. For the first time in his career, he reached 90 points. He established new personal bests in points (91), power play goals (20), and paced the club in power play points (39).

It wasn’t only his consistent production. Zibanejad played a good all-around game by coming back defensively. He again was strong shorthanded. Always a threat to score down a man, Zibanejad can take the puck away and fly in transition with sidekick Chris Kreider for shorthanded chances. When they play together, it’s fun to watch. They combined for 75 goals. Zibanejad’s 39 paced the team, followed by Kreider’s 36.

More than anything, Zibanejad is a great team guy. He can play with anyone and make Gerard Gallant look smart. For a good portion of the 2022-23 season, he played with Kreider and Jimmy Vesey. Eventually, Vesey slid down to the checking line. Prior to Patrick Kane joining the top line, it was Zibanejad who found chemistry with Artemi Panarin and Vladimir Tarasenko. Both started scoring. Panarin hasn’t stopped since getting his 29th last night on the power play.

Now, both Panarin and Tarasenko play with Vincent Trocheck on the second line. Their chemistry has been superb. Figuring out a way to get the most out of Tarasenko brought out the scorer in Panarin. Zibanejad deserves credit for it. If the Rangers go on a run, that combination could be viewed as a turning point.

The Rangers recently announced team awards. Aside from Jacob Trouba winning the Rod Gilbert Award and Ryan Lindgren winning the prestigious Steven McDonald Award, Lindgren also won Player’s Player.

Team MVP went to Mika Zibanejad. He deserved it. He was the best Ranger all season. A complete player who makes teammates better, the affable 29-year old Swede will do anything to help the Rangers win hockey games. That includes sacrificing the body. He had 57 takeaways. A good number for a top center. It demonstrates how detail oriented he is.

In winning the Rangers Team MVP, it’s the first time a forward won the award since Mark Messier won it. Talk about going way back. Zibanejad is the most important New York Ranger skater. Although it’s close between him and Adam Fox, who does everything on the blue line, I give the edge to Zibanejad. He’s the straw that stirs the drink. When he’s going, the Rangers are a much better team.

Seeing him blossom into a superstar has been a treat. From the time former GM Jeff Gorton acquired him in exchange for clutch Blueshirt Derick Brassard, we’ve seen the former Senators’ 2011 first round pick grow into a great player. That trade is climbing the list of the best in franchise history. Who would’ve believed it?

I always refer to him as Mika Magic. The reason is that he can do things on the ice few other players can. Of course, he’s not in the same category as Connor McDavid. But after Leon Draisaitl and Nathan MacKinnon, how many centers are better than him? It’s too early to rate Jack Hughes ahead of Zibanejad, who’s become a complete player. Hughes will definitely try to outplay Zibanejad in the upcoming first round series between the Rangers and Devils.

There are other centers that are outstanding players. Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos in Tampa. Sidney Crosby as long as he’s playing with the Pens. Patrice Bergeron in Boston. Elias Pettersson in Vancouver. Tim Stutzle hit 90 points in his third season with Ottawa. Auston Matthews with the Leafs. Aleksander Barkov in Florida. Sebastian Aho with the Canes. Anze Kopitar in LA. Nico Hischier is pretty good overall, too in Jersey.

The thing is, Zibanejad outplayed Aho in last year’s second round series. The Rangers came back from a three games to two deficit to win it over the Hurricanes. He was a big reason why.

Mika Magic can show up at any time. Ever since that remarkable five-goal game that tied the franchise record, we’ve seen Zibanejad get better and better. He had 41 goals and 75 points in 57 games when when the 2020-21 season was paused due to COVID. Could he have hit 50 goals? There were still 12 games left in the schedule.

Zibanejad might never approach that figure. However, when you watch him during shifts, you see a player who puts the statistics second. It’s all about the team. We see it in his interviews. He’s also very accountable. That’s why he’s so easy to root for.

It’s nice to see a good guy get rewarded. But also, this isn’t something that’s happened much on Broadway. A star center who grew up. Congrats to Mika on winning the team MVP. He also had a little message about it.

That’s what it’s all about. If the Rangers do go on to win the Stanley Cup, you better believe Zibanejad will he a huge part of it. There’s a tough road ahead. One that will officially begin next Tuesday in Newark. We’ll see where it takes them.


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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