Less than two years ago, the New York Rangers released a letter informing fans that they were going to rebuild and that their run of playoff appearances was at an end. Fast forward to now, and the Rangers have had a very good offseason that’s accelerated that rebuild. Delusional as it would be to suggest they’re back to contenders now, their successful summer of 2019 has definitely gotten things moving along. Perhaps as part of this they can christen a captain as the face of this developing era in franchise history.
The Rangers have had an uneven history as far as recent captains go. Left winger Chris Drury scored 93 points (37G, 56A) in 182 games, accepting a buyout and retiring in 2011 after scoring five points in 24 games. His successor, right winger Ryan Callahan, got the “C” for the 2011/12 season and scored 110 points (56G, 54A) in 166 games before being traded to Tampa Bay during the 2013/14 season. Defenceman Ryan McDonagh received the captaincy for the next season and, from 2014/15 through to his trade to Tampa Bay during the 2017/18 season, scored 135 points (25G, 110A) in 270 games, also representing the Rangers in both the 2016 and 2017 All-Star Games.
On the one hand, the Rangers have so many major additions and will have a very different, and much-improved, roster entering this season that you can argue in favour of introducing a new captain as the face of a new era. On the other hand, the Rangers probably have the fewest truly strong options for a captain. Nobody on the roster carrying over from last season has an overly strong case combining on-ice impact and tenure with the team. While new additions can be named captain (see Chara, Zdeno), the Rangers’ most notable off-season additions only have a few years each of experience overall and haven’t worn letters with their former teams.
Last season saw Kreider have one of the best seasons of his career. He tied his career-high of 28 goals and was only one assist from matching his 25-assist and 53-point career-highs, though in four more games than those career-highs. If we’re talking about long tenure with the team and solid on-ice impact, then Kreider fits the bill. He has been with the Rangers since the 2012 playoffs and is a four-time 20-goals and 40-point scorer. On the other hand, the knock on his suitability is that the Rangers are still rebuilding and it is known that they are trying to trade Kreider.
In Skjei we have a fairly good option. At 25, he wouldn’t be considered too young for the captaincy. While he’s not a big scorer, Skjei led the team in TOI per game last season and is relied on heavily in defensive situations. A advantage of his is that he is also a home-grown player, having been drafted by the Rangers in the first round, 28th overall, in the 2012 Entry Draft.
Prior to last season, Zibanejad had only once, and just barely, eclipsed the 50-point mark, and was only a first-line centre on the Rangers roster by default. Scoring 30 goals and 74 points last season, his third overall, while adorned with an alternate captain’s “A,” Zibanejad has played himself into that conversation. What I said earlier about there being no slam dunk case for Rangers captain stands, but he has as good a case as anyone on the roster.
I ultimately think it will be Skjei. There is a good chance the Rangers continue to hold off on naming a captain, but when they do, I think you the reader can agree that a big-minute player given lots of responsibility who was brought up as part of the organization and has a lot of hockey ahead of him would be the sensible pick for captain when they hand out the “C.”