Our second major trade of the 2022-23 season went down earlier this afternoon. After the New York Islanders acquired Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks a week ago, their division rivals — the New York Rangers — responded by trading for Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola from the St. Louis Blues.
In return, the Blues received a conditional 2023 first-round pick, a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick, Sammy Blais — who was part of the Pavel Buchnevich deal two years ago — and prospect Hunter Skinner. The condition on the first is it’ll be the later of the Rangers’ two firsts between their own and the Dallas Stars’ first, which New York obtained when they traded Nils Lundkvist to Dallas. The fourth becomes a third if the Rangers make the playoffs this year.
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Here are some initial thoughts and trade grades for each of the Blues and Rangers.
Blues Begin Sell-Off
With the Blues heavily trending toward missing the playoffs, it’s not a surprise to see general manager Doug Armstrong begin to sell as he looks to retool. Tarasenko was arguably their biggest trade chip, even more so than Ryan O’Reilly. However, the return they received for one of the franchise’s best players was a tad underwhelming.
We’ll start with Blais, who returns for his second stint in St. Louis. He’s a low-event, low-volume shooter who should play a depth role for the Blues. He’s appeared in 40 games this season and has just five points, all of which are assists. At this point in his career, he’s a fourth-liner, but perhaps he can get back closer to the level he was before getting traded to the Rangers for Buchnevich.
The other player involved in the trade, Hunter Skinner, was a Rangers fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft. The 21-year-old defenseman has spent most of this season with the Jacksonville Icemen in the ECHL. Perhaps he’ll blossom into a depth defender at some point, but he has a ways to go before getting consideration for an NHL role.
The real value for the Blues in trading Tarasenko is receiving an extra first-round pick. It will be in the back half of the round, but that’s not a problem, given the depth of the 2023 draft. The Blues have done well drafting in the later parts of the first (Jimmy Snuggerud and Robert Thomas, to name a couple). If they use the pick at the draft, they’ll have to hope to land another Snuggerud or Thomas. If not, they could also use it to obtain an NHLer if they’re looking for a quick retool for 2023-24.
Blues Grade: B-
Rangers Find Their Scoring Upgrade & Add Defensive Depth
Given the competitiveness of the Metropolitan Division, it’s no surprise the Rangers went out and made a big move. Tarasenko may not be the player he once was, but his ten goals and 29 points in 38 games equates to a 22-goal and 63-point pace over 82 games. That’s where his value truly lies because his defensive game has fallen off quite a bit in recent years:
Given Artemi Panarin and Tarasenko are friends, it seems highly likely the two will end up on a line to start once Tarasenko arrives in New York. While Panarin isn’t the elite play driver he was once, he can still dish assists among the best in the league. With Tarasenko flanking him on the opposite wing, the Rangers’ top-six should be quite the threat to most teams on any given night.
The other player heading to New York, Niko Mikkola, is a bruising defenseman who should help the Rangers’ third pair. They’ve used a rotating cast of Libor Hajek, who they placed on waivers shortly after acquiring Tarasenko, and Ben Harpur on their third pair. They needed an upgrade in that regard and got one with Mikkola:
Mikkola won’t add much offense, but he’s fine enough defensively at even strength, and he should help the Rangers’ penalty kill. He’s not going to light the world on fire, but he is better than what they had before. Plus, he will add a physical presence at 6-foot-4, 209 pounds; he already has 96 hits on the season and will block shots.
The key for the Rangers in acquiring Tarasenko is that they did not give up anything of significant value other than the first. And that’s less meaningful, considering they have two firsts at their disposal. Blais had been struggling to find his place in the Rangers’ lineup, so a change of scenery was probably in his best interest. While there are some concerns about how Tarasenko’s defense struggles may impact the Rangers, their offense should benefit quite a bit from having him in their lineup.
Rangers Grade: A-