Rangers Report Cards: Niko Mikkola: B (Wasn’t on the team)
When the trade deadline rolled around, the Rangers had a big hole to fill in the right-wing positions in the top six, and their third-pairing defense on the left-hand side was another concern. Chris Drury swooped in like a trade wizard, snagging Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola from the Blues. Rangers fans rejoiced, and not just because they got Tarasenko!
Standing tall at 6-4 and 210 lbs, Mikkola might have believed that playing with the puck was optional in this physical sport. He’s the kind of guy who can change the momentum of a game just by his skating and hitting around the ice – he’s the Zamboni of defensemen.
Yet Mikkola wasn’t just a brawn show. He slipped into the top pairing like he’d been there since birth, making it seem like the Rangers were playing with an extra ace.
After the trade, Mikkola scored a goal and tossed out two assists during his 31 regular season games as a Ranger. He had a 1.6 Defensive Point Share with 38 blocks and 55 hits. That’s respectable, especially considering he brought the heat on the forecheck and was open to some good old-fashioned board battles.
The pairing of Mikkola and Braden Schneider was like that dynamic duo you’d see in a buddy cop movie, except their stats together weren’t exactly blockbuster material.
According to the wizards at Natural Stat Trick, when Mikkola and Schneider were in cahoots, their expected goals against per 60 minutes was a bit worse (3.08) than when they went solo (2.65). Even the New Jersey Devils probably had a good chuckle exploiting that in the playoffs.
Still, Mikkola was an upgrade over Ben Harpur, even if not by leaps and bounds. Maybe the tiny discrepancy was because of assistant coach Gord Murphy’s defensive strategy or their role for the third pair, but hey, the guy’s solid as a brick wall. And guess what? The Florida Panthers recognized that, too. They snatched him up in free agency, giving him a 3-year, $7.5 million deal. That’s some sweet validation right there.