As the Rangers’ front office prepares to wheel and deal before the Feb. 25 trade deadline it doesn’t have to look too far to be reminded of one move that is paying high dividends.
That would be the swap that sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa in a deal that brought back Mika Zibanejad in the summer of 2016. At the time, it was partially about getting younger — Zibanejad 23 at the time and Brassard 29. It was also about saving cap space, with Brassard about to start the third year of his five-year, $25 million deal while Zibanejad had one year left at $2.625 million before reaching restricted free agency.
Since, Zibanejad has emerged into a legitimate top-line center and earned his five-year, $26.75 million deal he signed before the 2017-18 season. Brassard had a short run with the Senators before he was shipped off to the Penguins in the summer of 2017, and just two weeks ago was sent to the Panthers. There is a chance he could get flipped again — possibly going back to Columbus, from whence he came in that blockbuster deal that had the Rangers send Marian Gaborik to the Blue Jackets.
But with all those machinations, Zibanejad is beginning to really thrive in the Broadway spotlight. He has 22 goals and a team-leading 53 points in 54 games this season, the club getting a day off Saturday before returning to action Sunday night with a Garden match against the Maple Leafs.
“The only thing I wanted to make sure is that they were right trading for me,” Zibanejad told The Post recently. “I think they’re happy.”
No qualms there from first-year head coach David Quinn, who has watched Zibanejad bloom into a leader, both in games and in the locker room.
“I think he has embraced the role, not only on the ice, but off the ice,” Quinn said. “His play just keeps getting better and better. He’s really doing a lot of things that we need away from the rink to help us get to where we want to go. He’s a guy that does things the right way. He’s a team guy, he works hard on and off the ice. I just love his approach.”
Both Zibanejad and Brassard are hockey nerds, players who follow the league closely and are intimately interested in what goes on — especially around this time of year. And looking back on the trade, Zibanejad reiterated a deep respect for Brassard.