Jeff Gorton admits that after his team was eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs this past spring by the Pittsburgh Penguins, he felt compelled to make some changes to the Rangers roster, in particular to get younger and faster. However that didn't mean the Rangers general manager was interested in making trades just for the sake of making trades. He only was going to swing deals if the upside benefited his club.
That is exactly what Gorton believes he accomplished with Monday's trade that saw New York acquire 23 year-old center Mika Zibanejad and a second round selection in the 2018 NHL Draft from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for veteran center Derick Brassard and a 2018 seventh rounder.
"I am not mandated to change ten things, this is an opportunity to get better and that's why we took it," explained Gorton. "This is a younger player, almost six years younger (than Brassard), that's coming off two 20-goal seasons that we believe is heading into the prime of his career. The ability to get a younger player that is fast, big, plays real well in his own zone and can do a lot of things for us--that's the exciting piece (of the trade)."
Zibanejad, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 212 pounds, established career highs last season with 21 goals, 30 assists and 51 points. He was Ottawa's fifth-leading scorer and also ranked fifth on the team in goals scored. Two of his goals were scored on the power play, two others were tallied while shorthanded, and Zibanejad led the Senators with seven game-winners.
Perhaps best of all, Zibanejad's offensive statistics have improved in each of his four National Hockey League seasons.
"The potential is there for more upside, he's just scratching the surface," Gorton said of Zibanejad, who has scored 64 goals and totaled 151 points in 281 career games. "At age 23 there's not a lot of guys that have done what he has done as far as score 20 before that age. I think since he's come in he's gotten better every year."
Along with his offensive success and upside, the Rangers also like the complete package Zibanejad brings. As Gorton pointed out, the native of Sweden is solid on face offs--improving each season so far in that category, as well--and plays a reliable defensive game, while contributing both on the penalty kill and power play.
"When you make a trade you're not just looking at one thing, you're looking at all scenarios," offered Gorton. "Where's his upside? Where's his best fit in our lineup? Can he play on the power play and where does he fit on the power play? How good is he on the penalty kill? Can he play against the better players and bigger centers in the league? All those things went into this, and it took a lot of thought and effort from everyone here. At the end of the day this is a trade we felt like would make us a better team."
Monday's trade was the second executed by Gorton this off-season, following the draft-day deal in which the Rangers acquired defenseman Nick Holden from Colorado in exchange for a 2017 fourth-round draft pick.
The Rangers have also signed veteran free agent forwards Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe, center Josh Jooris, and free agent defensemen Adam Clendening and Michael Paliotta.
"We're in a (Salary) Cap world, there's expansion coming, whole different scenarios now, and finding a trade partner sometimes is not that easy," Gorton said of the team's activity this off-season. "I would say it's been somewhat difficult to find the right deals to make us better, and that's why you see a lot of the guys back right now. We'll continue to look at things that can make us better all the time."