Zibanejad and Panarin: Two Forwards Taking the Next Step

Photo via Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Playing against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, it was just another game at the rink for Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. 

It was another game where both forwards put in a combined five points in a 5-3 win for their New York Rangers. 

It was another game where both forwards played a part in the comeback win, as the Rangers battled back from a quick 2-0 deficit in the first period. 

Finally and, perhaps, most importantly, it was another game showing why the Rangers made the moves to bring the two players into the organization in the first place. 

Zibanejad, a Swedish native, was initially drafted by the Ottawa Senators as the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. After several years with his first NHL organization, Ottawa traded him in the summer of 2016 to the Rangers for veteran forward Derick Brassard. After showing promise on offense despite breaking his fibula in the early part of the 2016-2017 season, the Rangers awarded Zibanejad with a five-year, $26.75 million contract in the summer of 2017. 

Panarin, after going undrafted in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks in April of 2015. After two seasons where Panarin averaged over 75 points with the Blackhawks, he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets where his production took another step forward, as he averaged over 85 points in two seasons with them. In the summer of 2019, Panarin signed a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with the Rangers, making the forward a significant financial commitment to the future while also showing the Rangers were serious in combining young, rookie and raw talent with veteran leadership and postseason experience Panarin possessed. 

While both players are super consistent with the puck on offense, it would not have disappointed the Rangers front office if they maintained their past production during the current 2019-2020 season. Showing consistency on offense like they did in previous seasons would be enough to satisfy the contracts they were given. 

With the halfway point of the 2019-2020 season passing, both forwards have maintained consistency, but with one catch. 

They are consistently better

Let’s look at the basics. Zibanejad has 33 points on the season (17 G, 16 A), while Panarin has 58 points (23 G, 35 A). Their career high in goals scored, respectively, is 30 and 31 (Zibanejad scored 30 goals last season while Panarin scored 31 in the 2016-2017 season). Despite Zibanejad missing 13 games, if he were to play all remaining games during the regular season, he would be on pace to score 40 goals. Panarin, who has played in all 42 games, would be on pace for 45 goals. Whether on even strength or the power play, they are producing. Big time. 

It was known that they both could score a hefty amount of goals. However, before this season, both were, at varying times in their career, seen as more assist-oriented players that shared the puck and helped set up other players to score goals. While they have still maintained that style of game to a degree (Zibanejad and Panarin are both top-five on the team in assists), they have upped the ante and have taken their goal-scoring game to a brand-new level. While both are averaging a hair more time on the ice this season compared to their previous ones, their skating time doesn’t tell the whole story. 

So, what does tell the whole story? Simple. They are both attempting more shots. Both Zibanejad and Panarin are top-three on their team in shots taken this season (Zibanejad with 97 and Panarin with 128). Zibanejad is on pace for over 230 shots on the season (again, accounting for the missed time), should he play in all 40 remaining regular season games. That would put him on pace for the second most shot attempts on a season in his career, behind only the 236 shots he took last season when he played in all 82 regular season games. As for Panarin, it is easier to decipher what he is on pace for, as he has played in all 42 games the Rangers have taken part in this season. Should Panarin play in all 82 games, he would be on pace for 250 shots, which would shatter his single season record of 228 set during the 2017-2018 season with the Blue Jackets. 

With both being on pace for the most goals and most shots in their career, the next correlation can be seen in regard to their shooting percentage, which looks at the percentage of shots on goal that result in a goal. Zibanejad and Panarin are both shattering their previous career-highs. Zibanejad’s S% is currently 17.5%, well above his 13.3 S% achieved with Ottawa in the 2014-2015 season. As for Panarin, his S% sits at 18.0%, which would surpass his S% of 16.0% achieved in his rookie season with Chicago in 2015-2016. Between both players, their S% ranks as top two on the team this season so far. 

For Zibanejad, he is transforming into a first-rate scorer that Ottawa initially thought he could do way back when he was drafted in the top-10. 

For Panarin, he is transforming into one of the elite players on offense in the game today. 

For the New York Rangers front office and coaching staff, they are quickly realizing that they have a pair of players that are not only producing at an electric level but are also mentoring a young team around them.

For the New York Rangers as a whole, they are in for a treat. The game against the Avalanche, and the season collectively, is just the beginning for this duo.  

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