Chris Drury pulled the trigger on a trade, acquiring right winger Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola from the St Louis Blues, in exchange for winger Sammy Blais, minor league prospect defenseman Hunter Skinner and two picks.
For the best part of two years, Gallant has struggled to solve the top six, and while the new-found confidence of the Kid Line is giving the Rangers some added scoring punch, the concentration of the three young forwards on one line, has created further holes on the other two scoring lines.
Tarasenko immediately gives Gallant the option of concentrating his best offensive players on one line, or perhaps giving the Panarin-Trocheck combination another look. With Panarin only recently paired up with Zibanejad, it could prove that chemistry will be hard to come by, but with 31 games remaining, it does at least give everyone a little more time to gel.
Having the extra time could well work out to be an advantage, last season the Rangers waited until the last moments before the deadline to make their moves, and were left with around 18-20 games in which to get Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte and Justin Braun integrated into the line-up. With injuries, that can easily be further impacted, as we saw last year with Motte, and to a lesser extent Copp.
By adding Mikkola into the mix, the Rangers hope to have upgraded their third pair defensive pair. The team went into the season hoping that Zac Jones or Libor Hajek would take the opportunity, or perhaps that Matthew Robertson would step up to claim it. Then they were forced to trade hold-out Nils Lundkvist and soon after lost Jarred Tinordi to a waiver claim. Ben Harpur came in for a try-out, and has filled in well, but is probably better looked at as a first call-up, rather than your every day option.
In Mikkola they get a bit of a no-frills type defender who can cover a lot of space, but isn’t necessarily going to contribute much offensively. Averaging over 16 minutes a night with St Louis, he should be able to pick up Harpur’s ice time, and hopefully provide some reliable coverage on the back end alongside his young defensive partner.
Both Tarasenko and Mikkola are UFAs this Summer, and along with Tarasenko’s NMC, probably allowed Drury to get him at a bit lower cost than someone like Timo Maier, who while younger and more in his prime, would have certainly made next Summer’s contract negotiations even harder than they already are.
St Louis also retained half of Tarasenko’s $7.5M salary, and that, along with sending Sammy Blais back the other way, gave the Rangers just enough room to move three weeks earlier than the March 3rd deadline.
Speaking of Blais, it’s fair to say that his tenure on Broadway was less than expected. Included in the widely panned trade that sent RFA Pavel Buchnevich the other way, it was hoped that he could bring both an edge to a soft team, as well as perhaps be able to play up the lime-up when called upon.
Coming over from the Blues, Blais was part of the successful 2019 Cup team, but also carried the reputation of inconsistent play and a long injury history. Although not his fault, the latter proved true early into his tenure with the Rangers, when he was taken down awkwardly by Devils defender PK Subban, and tore both his ACL and MCL.
Despite a lengthy rehab that saw him return to skating as the Rangers entered the second round of the playoffs, Gallant elected to keep him out, and return him to the line-up as the team’s first option on the top line in camp. It was quickly apparent that Blais did not have the speed nor the freedom of movement yet, and he ended up not only slipping down the line-up, but being held out of the first couple of games to give him some extra time to try to get back up to playing speed.
A fixture early on, Blais slowly found himself being pushed out of the line-out, resulting in a series of healthy scratches and then a conditioning stint in Hartford. He managed two games with hte Rangers before the trade, perhaps just to prove that he was sufficiently healthy to be included in the deal.
Blais’ stretch of 54 games without a goal, the entirety of his Blueshirt career, falls three short of the Ranger record held by Tanner Glass, and he’ll probably be remembered more for being part of a trade that saw the departure of a fan favorite and ensuing knee injury, than for any contribution he made to the team.
As a UFA this Summer, it was already unlikely that Blais would return with the team, so the trade just shortens his tenure by a couple of months.
Skinner’s inclusion is hardly surprising either. The 2019 4th round pick initially caught the attention of some, by showing some ability to generate offense from the blueline. While still considered a less likely option, there was some hope that his defensive game would evolve, and that perhaps his skating too might improve.
Unfortunately for him and the Rangers, it proved the opposite might be true, with the team assigning him to the ECHL’s affiliate early in the season, and only recently recalling him, perhaps again to give potential trade partners a chance to see him compete at the AHL level.
The only real asset the Rangers gave up in the trade is a 1st round pick in this year’s draft. The pick will be the lower of the two first rounders that the Rangers hold, though with Dallas performing the way they are, it’s quite possible that the two could end up pretty close to each other. The other pick, a conditional 4th rounder in the 2024 draft, is likely to end up being a 3rd rounder, with the only condition being that the Rangers indeed make the playoffs.
Overall it looks like a pretty good trade for the Rangers, giving up only one valuable asset, and being able to address potentially two areas of need. They hold onto all of their best prospects, and retain a 1st rounder for this year’s projected deep draft.