The second major domino to fall in the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline as the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers have struck a deal. Heading to New York are forward Vladimir Tarasenko (50 percent salary retained) and defenseman Niko Mikkola. The return for the Blues is forward Sammy Blais, defensive prospect Hunter Skinner, a conditional 2023 first-round pick, and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick.
A former first-round pick, Tarasenko has played his way into being one of the greatest players in Blues history. In his 11 seasons in St. Louis, he’s scored 262 goals (5th in team history), 291 assists (7th), 553 points (5th) in 644 games (11th). He’s earned three All-Star Game nods, as well as being a key cog to this team’s Stanley Cup run in 2018-19.
It’s been rumored over the last two seasons that Tarasenko has been looking for a way out of St. Louis after he believed team doctors handled his multiple shoulder surgeries incorrectly and that the team subsequently rushed him back into action in the 2020 bubble playoffs. With his contract expiring at the end of this season and him making it known he would like to explore free agency this summer, it looks like Tarasenko will be a pure rental (for now) for the Rangers.
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Mikkola is more than just a throw-in on this deal. He is a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) but has been one of the Blues’ more dependable defensemen this season. He’s a left-handed shot who is purely a stay-at-home third-pairing defender. He has prototypical size at 6-foot-4, 209 pounds, and will fill the roster void created by the recently-waived Libor Hajek. In 139 games over parts of four seasons, he’s scored 20 points (four goals, 16 assists), 259 hits, and 188 blocked shots.
What the Rangers Get
Tarasenko to the Top Line
In adding Tarasenko, the Rangers will likely be slotting him in on their first line alongside long-time friend and fellow-Russian Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. While his play this season hasn’t been on-par with his 82-point output in 2021-22, he’s still scoring at a .75 point-per-game clip with 29 points (10 goals) in 38 games. He missed time this season with a hand injury after blocking a shot on Dec. 31 but returned to action on Jan. 24 and failed to score a point in his final six games as a Blue.
There’s no doubt that Tarasenko, now 31 years old, is still a top-6 forward and one of the league’s more feared snipers. His power-play numbers are a bit down this season (two goals, seven assists), which is likely due to him taking a different role from the left side that was vacated when David Perron didn’t re-sign in St. Louis. Although he’s a left-handed shot, he’ll best serve the Rangers as a right winger in 5-on-5 and on the right side of one of their power-play units.
When motivated, Tarasenko can play a 200-foot game and play with some physicality in both the forecheck and backcheck. He can use his size (6-foot-1, 228 pounds) to fly up the right side of the ice and keep the defender on his back while driving hard to the net, which he can do just as effectively from the left side as well. However, there are times when he seems unmotivated on the ice and tends to disappear for significant stretches. I would imagine that a trade to a playoff-caliber team like the Rangers would change that, though.
Mikkola on Third Pairing
Mikkola will likely slot into the Rangers’ third defensive pairing on the left side. They waived left-handed defenseman Libor Hajeck earlier today (Feb. 9), essentially clearing a spot in the lineup for his inclusion in this deal. In 50 games this season, he’s recorded three points (all assists), is a plus-2 player, and was third on the Blues in both hits (96) and blocked shots (68) while mainly playing on the bottom pair. He’s a free agent after this season but could be a prime candidate to be re-signed to an affordable deal and could easily fit into the Rangers’ plans for next season.
What the Blues Get
Blais Back in Blue
Coming back to St. Louis, the Blues will receive a player they drafted in 2014 in forward Sammy Blais. He was traded to New York in 2021, along with a second-round pick, for Pavel Buchnevich — a trade that has worked out very well for the Blues. In four seasons in St. Louis, he scored 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 119 games while spending most of his ice time in a bottom-six role. In his one-plus seasons with the Rangers, he’s missed a lot of time due to injuries, logging only nine points (all assists) in just 54 games. In November of 2021, Blais tore his ACL and subsequently missed the remainder of that season.
Similar to Tarasenko and Mikkola, Blais is also a UFA after this season. The reasoning for his inclusion in this deal is two-fold. One) He’ll help offset some money with his $1.525 million salary, and two) he’ll immediately fill the roster spot vacated by Tarasenko. He’s more of a physical, in-your-face type of player, evidenced by his 119 hits in just 40 games this season, and should be playing somewhere in the Blues’ bottom-six for the remainder of this season.
Skinner Is a Project
Right-handed defenseman Hunter Skinner is the prospect heading to the Blues in this deal. He’s got great size at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds and adds to the organization’s depth on the right side — an area in which they lack much prospect talent. He’s bounced around between the American Hockey League (AHL) and the lower-ranking ECHL over the past three seasons since being selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.
Skinner, 21 years old, is an offensive defenseman who likely projects to be more of a 5-7 defender at the NHL level. He spent 22 games with the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL this season, tallying eight points (three goals). In the AHL with the Hartford Wolfpack, he scored two points (two assists) in eight games. He will likely be assigned to the Springfield Thunderbirds once everything is finalized. He could find his way onto the Blues’ top 10 prospect list once the season is over.
Conditional Draft Picks
The real value from this trade for the Blues comes in the form of the two draft picks they’ll be receiving from the Rangers: a conditional 2023 first-round pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick. Here are the terms of the conditional picks:
- Conditional 2023 first-round pick: The Rangers own two first-round picks in the 2023 draft: their own and the pick they acquired from the Dallas Stars. The Blues will receive the lower of these two picks.
- Conditional 2024 fourth-round pick: If the Rangers miss the playoffs this season, this remains as a 2024 fourth-rounder. However, if they do make the playoffs, this converts into a 2023 third-round pick.
The Blues now stand with two first-round picks in what is supposed to be a deep draft this coming June. They’re in a position to possibly add up more draft assets as we close in on the March 3 trade deadline.
Stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for all of your trade deadline news!