Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mika Zibanejad: Two Autographed Cards

As mentioned yesterday, there were numerous signings on July 25th, enough that I had to push back talking about Mika Zibanejad's to today. Which isn't to say it was the least important one; the New York Rangers signaled their intent on making him their first-line center following the Derek Stepan trade by signing him to a five-year, $26.75M deal that will count for $5.35M per season on the team's salary cap. It's the cap hit he was looking for in arbitration on a one-year deal - while the Rangers were aiming at paying him $4.1M - but extending the term to five years made it reasonable to both sides.

The question is, for many Rangers fans, whether Zibanejad has what it takes to carry that load and bear that pressure, and I think the former Ottawa Senators first-round pick (6th overall in 2011) does, indeed. After all, he's improved his points-per-game ratio in every single season so far, and already has two 20-goal campaigns under his belt. He doesn't get penalized much, only once reaching the 20-minute plateau, and he had a 0.66 PPG average last season, a year in which only seven players reached the 80-point mark. Only nine had a PPG average over 1.0, and that includes Steven Stamkos' 20 points in 17 games.

He also comes with tremendous pedigree, having scored the game-winner (and lone goal) in the 2012 World Juniors final, securing gold for Team Sweden against Team Russia. He has also won silver at the 2011 U-18 World Championships, and bronze at the 2010 U-17 Worlds, where he finished tied with current Rangers teammate J.T. Miller for fifth in tournament points with 9 in 6 games, behind American Rocco Grimaldi (14) and Russians Alexander Khokhlachev (13), Mikhail Grigorenko and Anton Zlobin (10 apiece).

The Rangers are particularly strong on left wing, with Mats Zuccarello being able to post some 40+ assists and 60-some points, and both Chris Kreider and Rick Nash having the potential to score 30 goals; on right wing, Michael Grabner scored 27 goals last season, Jesper Fast scored 15 in just 68 games and Pavel Buchnevich is looking to break out and has the potential to become a player similar to Artemi Panarin, meaning 30 goals and 70 points per season are not out of the question in his case. And the aforementioned Miller should also fit somewhere in there as well.

All of this is to say that playmakers such as Zibanejad and new acquisition David Desharnais - as well as returning third-line center Kevin Hayes - should have a blast this year.

Here he is from his Senators days, first wearing the white (away) uniform, checking Washington Capitals forward D.J. King in his lone 2011-12 game (with just 6:58 of ice time), on card #335 from Panini's 2012-13 Score set:
And here he is wearing the Sens' beautiful black "O-logo" jersey, on card #124 from Fleer's 2014-15 Fleer Ultra set, manufactured by Upper Deck:
He signed both in blue sharpie, tagging his jersey number (93) at the end, during the 2015-16 season.

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