Niko Mikkola, Unrestricted Free Agent
This might have been the most underrated move by Chris Drury and co: bringing in Mikkola in the Tarasenko trade paid off immediately for New York. When the defensemen came to New York, he was expected to be the sixth defenseman paired with Braden Schneider, but the Rangers were dealing with the injury with Ryan Lindgren, so Mikkola was slotted next to Adam Fox.
Though there were some growing pains, Mikkola quickly caught on and saw himself playing north of 18 minutes a game and he was playing well. In many games, Mikkola was one of the best defensemen for New York.
He provided defensive stability for New York throughout the back half of the season no matter who he was paired with, and no fan should be upset with his contributions.
But, this is a pretty easy decision to make.
The Rangers are dealing with cap problems as it is, and pile that on with other free agents that should be higher on Drury’s list, it’s hard to see Mikkola coming back. Some teams will offer him more.
Also, midway through the season, the Rangers gave Ben Harpur a two-year extension on his contract. He will probably be the sixth defenseman, next to Schneider, on opening night.
Prediction: Mikkola leaves and gets the best contract. The Rangers will not even offer him, with the hope that Harpur (or a prospect) fills the sixth-defensemen role (at least until the trade deadline).
Tyler Motte, Unrestricted Free Agent
In Motte’s second stint in New York, he provided the Rangers with exactly what he was brought for fourth-line stability. He dealt with injuries early on but quickly became a mainstay for Gerard Gallant and Co.
Motte provided penalty kill minutes along with increasing time on the fourth line, and as the season went on, he even had an offensive role. This was the biggest difference between his first and second tenure in New York: he had zero points in nine games as a Ranger last year, but in 24 this year, he had five goals and five assists.
What stands out for Motte is his effort – there were many games where he was one of the better offensive players for the Rangers, even though this was not what he was brought here for. He did more than what the Rangers brought him for and should be appreciated for this.
Motte has expressed the want to stay in New York, not only this season but last. Clearly, the Rangers see him as a key piece, as he was acquired in two straight trade deadlines.
Will Chris Drury let him go again?
Prediction: No, he won’t. Motte was one of the better players for the Rangers throughout his second tenure here, and with the desire to stay, Drury will offer him a contract. It should be around $1-1.5 million AAV. But, Motte will be a Ranger on opening night like he wants to.