NEW YORK — Derick Brassard wasn’t the only one surprised after being traded by the Rangers to Ottawa in the team’s biggest move in the off-season.
Mika Zibanejad was just as stunned after learning the Senators were dealing him to New York. After all, he just had built a home near the Canadian capital.
"This trade wasn’t really on the radar for me, at least I didn’t hear anything about this," Zibanejad said Tuesday on a conference call.
"It came as a shock and surprise, but like I said before I’m happy for it right now, obviously, and I’m really excited to kick off the season there."
The 23-year-old Zibanejad gives the Rangers a bigger, younger centre than the soon to be 29-year-old Brassard. He also comes at roughly half the price, earning $2.6 million.
"I feel like I can skate very good for a bigger guy," Zibanejad said. "I feel like my shot is getting improved every year. I feel like I’m a pretty good all-around solid player. I think obviously as a young player you can always improve in every different aspect of your game. Keep working on the faceoff, keep working on the little details that will help me and the team be successful. I feel like I am solid, all-around."
Like Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton, Zibanejad believes he is going to get better. He skated in 81 games with Ottawa with 21 goals and 30 assists, establishing career highs in games played, goals, assists, game-winning goals (seven), and faceoff win rate (50.5 per cent). He has scored at least 20 goals in each of the past two seasons.
"The more experience you get, the more and more comfortable you get," Zibanejad said. "It’s how things work around the league."
Since the trade, Zibanejad said several of his new teammates reached out to welcome him.
Zibanejad will be joining a team led by fellow Swede, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
"I haven’t really interacted with him too much on a personal level," Zibanejad said. "I just know he’s really good friends with (defenceman) Erik Karlsson, one of my closest friends in Ottawa, and he had nothing but good things to say about him, so I’m excited."
Zibanejad liked his time in Ottawa, where he played his entire career. He is also looking forward to coming to New York.
However, it was tough for him to say the trade was going to serve as motivation.
"Both yes and no," he said. "Like I said all my energy goes to proving Ottawa wrong, that they (didn’t) keep me, but at the same time I want to prove the Rangers right, that they chose the right guy. That’s how I see it."