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Rangers Mika Zibanejad off to hot start under new deal

The Blueshirts' new first-line center is rising to the occasion early on this season.
Mika Zibanejad has four goals through his first three games this season. (Photo: Getty Images)

Regardless of what anyone says, it's difficult to be thrust into the spotlight in New York City. Especially when you become the first-line center on the New York Rangers

That's exactly what happened to Mika Zibanejad, who on top of that signed a new five-year, $26.75 million contract during the offseason.

While it's not a deal that breaks the bank, the book was still out on the 24-year-old. After being acquired by the Rangers following a career-high 21-goal season with the Ottawa Senators in 2015-16, Zibanejad suffered a broken fibula in November, limiting his season to just 56 games.

He still managed to record 14 goals and 23 assists, but the injury made him a fringe player on New York's postseason roster. Though he forced his way into a full role after providing a spark on the power play with a wicked wrist shot that is one of the most potent in the NHL. 

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Through the first three games of the 2017-18 season, Zibanejad has shown that he's not only worthy of his new deal but that he can flourish on the Rangers' first line.

The Swedish native has four goals already, which was tied for second in the NHL entering Monday night. Three of those tallies came on the power play, which was a league best. 

"It's a relief," Zibanejad said. "You're always looking to break that zero and I was able to do that."

He's not trying to do anything fancy, either. 

“I try to shoot and the puck seems to go in right now," he said. "I just am trying to place myself in a good spot out there and the guys are finding me and the puck seems to be going in. That’s just the mentality. You just have to keep shooting when you are hot, I guess.”

His early performances are paying dividends for head coach Alain Vigneault, who saw that Zibanejad was capable of doing big things in New York. That being said, the head coach is placing high expectations on his No. 1 center. 

"There’s no doubt that Mika knew we put a lot of faith in his play. We signed him to a long-term deal and we expected him to be an impact player on the team," Vigneault said. "I think the way he has started is the way that he has to continue. He has to continue to be a force on the ice — a difference-maker — and that’s what we expect from him.”

Zibanejad and the Rangers host the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

 
 
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