The biggest splash on the trade market the Rangers made this offseason was acquiring forward Mika Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators, a player head coach Alain Vigneault said he and the management team felt is still on the rise as a player in the National Hockey League.
"He's a younger player that our scouting staff and our management all felt he was on the upswing," Vigneault said of Zibanejad on Thursday. "The speed is there. The skill is there. The youth is there. We believe he's not fully developed yet and with the right environment teammate wise, coaching wise, we can get more from [him]."
Count Zibanejad as one who feels the same as Vigneault and company.
"I think so. I know so," Zibanejad said Saturday during training camp. "I feel like I've grown. As a young player, you always want to evolve from season to season. I feel like I Haven't hit the peak yet. I know I have much more to give but I think that's some of those things you have to work on every day, little things every day to get better."
Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton said it was a little bit of everything that led to the Rangers pulling the trigger on the deal that sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Zibanejad, including age.
"Zibanejad is a player we've liked for a while," Gorton said on Saturday. "We like his package of skating, skill, his ability to score, the fact that he's a right-handed shot on the power play. He's a pretty well-rounded player defensively. And then you throw on top of that his age. He's a younger player that scored 20 goals twice in the League. That was all part of it."
While it's known what Zibanejad is today, where does the player see himself down the road?
"I want to be a leading player on one of the top two lines, the top-six where I can contribute on offense," Zibanejad said. "I think the defensive numbers have been going up every season and for good reason. I think there's a lot more to give."
Zibanejad centered Chris Kreider and rookie Pavel Buchnevich on a line Sunday that caught the attention of Vigneault. And while it's still too early in camp to have trios set in stone, this one was strong enough for Vigneault to commit to for the foreseeable future.
"If there were anything like they were today in practice," Vigneault said with a laugh, "they're going to be a handful. They were by far the best line and the three best players today in practice. Both offensively and defensively, they made a lot of things happen. It was fun to watch. They're definitely a line we're going to keep together, probably a line that will probably be playing in the next two games. They were excellent today. All three used their skill, their speed and made some great things happen offensively, so it was fun to watch."
The trio had several goals that made those in attendance take notice. Kreider had two breakaway goals while Zibanejad potted a wrist shot glove side just under the crossbar in one drill. Buchnevich looked very comfortable with the pair, especially with Kreider, possibly thanks to Kreider's ability to speak Russian as the 21-year-old continues to get acclimated to life in America.
For Zibanejad, success starts in his own zone, and he knows strong play there will lead to good things down the ice.
"It's one of those things that if I take care of my own end well, I'm going to get good chances," Zibanejad explained. "Playing with good players, the opportunities are going to be there.
"I think that's the player I want to be," Zibanejad added. "I want to be reliable when we're up by one with one minute left or two minutes left, or if we're down by one and trying to get a goal. I want to be up there for every different situation."