General manager Chris Drury pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade, acquiring Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Sammy Blais, Hunter Skinner, a conditional first-round pick, and a fourth-round pick in 2024. The move filled the New York Rangers’ need for a third-pair left defenseman and a scoring right wing without hemorrhaging the prospect pool.
Per Cap Friendly, the deal left the Rangers with $1.6 million in deadline cap space, which leaves the door open for another deadline move. With a $1.3 million cap hit and the likelihood of being dealt due to his unrestricted free agent (UFA) status at the season’s end, Tyler Motte could be in store for a reunion with the Blueshirts.
Motte would solidify a fourth line that already looks strong after the acquisition of Tarasenko deepened the forward pool. Gerard Gallant was keen on Motte after he was acquired last season, utilizing him in critical situations, especially on the defensive end.
The Rangers don’t need to add any more scoring, and with the acquisition of Mikkola and Ben Harpur looming as the seventh defenseman, they are set on the back end, too. The two aspects of the roster that could use a jolt is the penalty kill and fourth line, areas in which Motte excels.
The top line features Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Tarasenko and is the best trio of forwards the Rangers have had on a line in recent memory. Line two features the kids Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko, while line three is a work-horse line with Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck, and Vitali Kravtsov. Adding Motte to a fourth line with Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow would be the icing on the cake.
Motte Brings Defensive Intelligence to High-Scoring Offense
In late December, Motte suffered a broken finger that kept him out of the lineup for a month, but he has played two games since returning, averaging just shy of 12 minutes in the two contests. The 27-year-old is the prototypical role player, playing bigger than his 5-foot-9 frame.
When acquired by Drury at the 2022 Trade Deadline, Motte was an instant upgrade for the bottom six. An injury kept him out of the lineup for the majority of the home stretch of the season, but he returned in the playoffs and added much-needed defensive support to a young forward core.
Motte has nine points in 34 games this season, with a plus-3 rating. Per Natural Stat Trick, he has the fifth-best goals for percentage on the Ottawa Senators with a 52 percent at 5-on-5. Despite the time missed with an injury, Motte is second amongst forwards on the Senators in penalty-kill ice time, with 96:22 played shorthanded this season.
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Rangers’ fans remember Motte as an excellent penalty killer, and with the Rangers’ penalty kill ranked 11th at 81.1 percent, adding a player who could improve that percentage would be wise. Motte has a high defensive IQ. He anticipates passes and gets his stick in the lane, breaking up plays.
He has blocked 33 shots this season in his 34 games and has registered 74 hits over that span. His defensive ability is what makes him an asset, with any offense he contributes being a bonus. Adding Motte’s defensive intelligence to the Rangers’ explosive lineup would make them even more dangerous come playoff time.
Motte was Key During Rangers’ Playoff Run
Motte was solid during the 15 playoff games he played for the Rangers. He killed penalties and did the little things that were needed to propel them to the Eastern Conference Final. With the Rangers trailing 3-2 in the series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Motte opened the scoring at Madison Square Garden in Game 6, propelling the Rangers to the win and eventual series win.
He only played 24 total games with the Rangers, but the Michigan native certainly made an impact. His game reminds me of Dominic Moore, an NHL journeyman with a couple of stints with the Rangers. Moore was always impactful in big moments, most notably when he scored the game-winning goal against the Montreal Canadiens that sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.
Motte is cut from the same cloth, with the willingness to do the little, gritty things in limited minutes. He won’t eat into the ice time of the team’s big guns, and will be beneficial to have when the Rangers’ are battling to hold leads in tightly contested playoff bouts.
The NHL Trade Deadline is March 3, and despite making their big move, the Rangers could still be active on deadline day. Motte is an option as a low-cost rental, and a reunion on Broadway would make sense for both parties. Time will tell if Drury has any more tricks up his sleeve, but keep an eye on Motte to the Rangers as the deadline approaches.