One of the hottest trade deadline rumors was that Vladimir Tarasenko would end up in a New York Rangers uniform. Today, it came true. The Blueshirts traded a package of players and draft picks for the former All-Star and Stanley Cup winner. It’s a major acquisition that makes a strong Rangers team even better.
The Rangers traded forward Sammy Blais, defense prospect Hunter Skinner and one of their two 2023 first-round draft picks (conditional), and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick to St. Louis for Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola.
About Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Tarasenko is a pending Unrestricted Free Agent in the final year of an eight-year, $60 million contract he signed in 2015. He turned 31 years old in December and this season he has 10 goals and 29 points in 38 games. It’s a drop from last season when he scored 34 goals and 82 points after recovering from a third shoulder surgery in just over two years. All reports are that his repaired shoulder should not be an issue for him in the future.
The Russian has only played in St. Louis after being drafted by the Blues in the first round in 2016. He has scored 262 goals and 533 points in over 10 seasons and has been a Second Team All-Star selection twice. He scored a career-high 40 goals in 2015-16 and the 82 points last season were his best. He has topped the 30-goal mark six times in his career.
In the Blues’ 2019 run to the Stanley Cup, he scored 11 goals and 17 points in 26 games and in 90 career playoff games, he has 41 goals and 60 points.
Tarasenko is a left-shot right winger who should slot into the top line with his good friend Artemi Panarin and center Mika Zibanejad. He has scored a quarter of his goals on the power play and should move into the first PP unit.
At this point, considering the salary cap issues facing the Rangers, he appears to be a pure deadline rental, but he has always expressed a desire to play in New York. He had a No Trade Clause in his contract so he had to approve this deal, which could have had an impact on what assets the Rangers sent to the Blues.
To make the deal work, the Blues are retaining 50% of Tarasenko’s salary this season, the maximum allowed by the NHL.
About Niko Mikkola
Niko Mikkola is a 26-year-old left-shot defenseman who is also headed to Unrestricted Free Agency. A fifth-round draft pick by the Blues in 2015, he signed a one-year deal for $1.9 million last July.
He has played 139 games in parts of four NHL seasons with four goals and 20 points. He has been a regular on the blueline for St. Louis this season, playing 50 of their 51 games with three assists and a plus/minus rating of +2 and 35 penalty minutes. He’s big at 6”4″ and 209 pounds.
Sammy Blais returns to St. Louis where he started his career. Traded to New York in the Pavel Buchnevich deal, his tenure in New York has been ill-fated, waylaid after he suffered a debilitating knee injury early last season. He has never been able to be the player the Rangers thought that they were getting, though he has consistently been one of the more physical players on the team.
Hunter Skinner is a 22-year-old right-shot defenseman who was a fourth-round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft. He has been playing for both Jacksonville in the ECHL and Hartford in the AHL and was probably not going to get a contract from the Rangers until he had an impressive stint with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL in 2020-21.
The 2023 first-round pick is one of two the Rangers hold and the condition is that it will be the latter of the two picks (New York or Dallas) held by the Blueshirts. The fourth-round pick becomes a third-round pick if the Rangers make the playoffs this season (they should).
A quick analysis
This trade, even as a rental, has to be seen as a win-win for the Rangers. The Rangers retained the better of the two first-round picks they had. Sammy Blais needs a change of scenery and Hunter Skinner is low on the Rangers’ depth chart on defense.
The Blueshirts get one of the most gifted forwards on the market who will hopefully mesh with Panarin and Zibanejad to form a potent top line. The Rangers have been looking for a right-wing to play with Panarin ever since they signed him and hopefully, there will be some magic between the two friends.
In Mikkola, they get an upgrade on defense over Libor Hajek and Ben Harpur. He may not be physical enough considering his size, but he is considered a late bloomer who had gotten better and the Finn finally made it this season as a regular on the blue line.
Once again, Chris Drury has swung for the fences with a deal that could have numerous playoff ramifications. In all honesty, Jimmy Vesey had no business playing regularly on the Rangers’ top line and this trade makes the Rangers a deeper, better team.
By solving the two biggest issues facing the Rangers, it should end the constant speculation about trade targets and put the Patrick Kane rumors to rest.