After defeating the Vancouver Canucks 4-3, the Rangers made a major splash by acquiring Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola from the St. Louis Blues prior to facing the Seattle Kraken (7:00 P.M. on MSG).
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The Blueshirts defeated the Vancouver Canucks by the score of 4-3 on Wednesday night. While preparing to face the Kraken on Friday night, the Rangers made their big move prior to the trade deadline in March. The trade is as follows:
New York Acquires
Vladimir Tarasenko (50% cap hit retained)
St. Louis Acquires
Conditional first-round pick in 2023 (The Blues get the worse of the two Rangers first-round picks unless the Dallas pick ends up in the top ten. If Dallas ends up in the top ten, St. Louis will receive the Rangers 2024 first-round pick)
Conditional fourth-round pick in 2024 (Becomes a third-round pick if the Rangers make the playoffs this season)
One important note on the trade is that the Rangers made a previous trade which allowed Arizona to choose a 2024 third-round pick or a 2026 second-round pick. Arizona has chosen to take the 2026 second-round pick which allowed the Rangers to trade the 2024 third-round pick.
The Blueshirts needed a right-winger who can score and a left-handed defenseman to round out the team. New York acquired both pieces in one deal. Tarasenko is 31-years-old and he has ten goals and 19 assists in 38 games this season. The Russian right-winger has suffered from injuries in recent seasons including shoulder surgery and hand injuries respectively. Tarasenko isn’t the same player he was when the Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a key contributor down the stretch. Fans in St. Louis were questioning his motivation and his compete level this season as he seemed unmotivated. A couple seasons ago, Tarasenko requested a trade out of St. Louis and it was finally granted. Oddly enough, his first chance to leave St. Louis was when he was left exposed in the expansion draft and the Ranger’s Friday night opponent didn’t take him.
Tarasenko will likely be slotted on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and his off-ice friend Artemi Panarin. Surprisingly, Tarasenko will start on the second power-play unit. But the top unit has had a change that sees Filip Chytil replace Vincent Trocheck. Trocheck will drop to the second unit with Kaapo Kakko, Tarasenko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Jacob Trouba. K’Andre Miller will come off the power play completely despite Miller having 12 more points than Trouba. Chytil is currently on a five-game goal scoring streak and will likely play the bumper position left vacated. With the second unit having more talent than in previous seasons, it will be worth keeping an eye on if Gallant continues to heavily used his top unit or if the second unit starts to see more time.
The other asset the Blueshirts received was Niko Mikkola. Mikkola is a 26-year-old left-handed defenseman who figures to slot in on the third pairing with Braden Schneider. Mikkola would be the fourth long-term defensive partner Schneider has played with this season. At 6’4, Mikkola has a big reach like Miller. The Finnish native is a defensive-defenseman with three points on the season. He won’t put up many points as he will be asked to play a more defensive role. Ben Harpur will likely serve as the team’s 7th defenseman as the season progresses. Libor Hajek was placed on waivers as a result.
“It’s something we’ve been looking at for a while,” said Rangers General Manager Chris Drury. “When the pieces started coming together, I didn’t see any reason to wait.”
St. Louis originally drafted Sammy Blais and traded him to New York in the deal that sent Pavel Buchnevich to the Blues. The experiment with Blais didn’t work out and he ultimately found himself on the fourth-line or even out of the lineup. Giving Blais back to St. Louis was a no-brainer in terms of making cap space (which helped them to afford Mikkola) and moving on from the player.
21-year-old Hunter Skinner was sent to the Blues which turned out to be a big win for New York. Skinner was a fourth-round selection in 2019 and he found himself playing in the ECHL. The Blueshirts have a log jam on the right-side and Skinner would likely never have a chance playing for a team that is committed to Adam Fox and Trouba. Schneider has been a revelation since being selected in the first round and he has brought good defensive play. Skinner gets a chance to potentially make a team that will be going through a retool. In addition, the Rangers didn’t have to part ways with one of their top prospects or even their second-tier prospects.
Lastly, the Blueshirts gave up a first-round pick and what will almost guarantee to be a third-round selection. Trading a first-round pick was to be expected when acquiring a player with Tarasenko’s ability and a mid-round draft pick is something you can live with and replace later if necessary. The Rangers had an extra first-round pick from the Nils Lundkvist trade to Dallas prior to the beginning of the season. All in all, this was a solid move by Drury and the Blues get some value for two players who are soon to be unrestricted free agents.
The Rangers were also linked to other scoring right-winger options including Patrick Kane and Timo Meier. According to ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan, “They decided to go for it after feeling the asking prices for Meier and Kane were too high. Also sounds like New York had some concerns over Kane’s hip injury.” It will be interesting to monitor whether one of the Rangers rivals such as the New Jersey Devils or Carolina Hurricanes will react to the move the Blueshirts made and try to acquire a top-talent.
Rangers vs Kraken
And with all of the news and excitement in Rangerstown, the Blueshirts will have to prepare themselves for a game against the Seattle Kraken. Both Tarasenko and Mikkola are expected to be available for the Rangers on Friday night according to Drury. Assuming they both play in the spots they are predicted too, the one interesting lineup decision Gallant will have to make is deciding who will play with Kreider and Trocheck. The candidates are Jimmy Vesey, Barclay Goodrow, Vitaly Kravtsov, and Julien Gauthier. Gallant could mix and match the winger based on the Rangers opposition. For example, if Gallant wants it to be a shut-down line, Goodrow would likely be the best candidate. But if Gallant wanted to get the line on the scoresheet, Vitaly Kravtsov would almost certainly be given the job. Or even if Gallant wanted to maximize size and speed, then Gauthier could be given an opportunity. The trade gives Gallant options and it will be interesting to see who gets the first crack in the top-nine.
The Rangers will conclude their three-game post all-star break homestand and begin a back-to-back on Friday. New York won both games against their Western Canada opponents and will now take on the surprise of the league in Seattle, before going on the road for a big divisional game against the Hurricanes.
The Kraken have shocked many around the league and they are right in the midst of the playoff hunt. With 63 points, the Kraken are currently second in the Pacific Division and are just three points back of the Golden Knights with two games in hand on Vegas. Seattle has been one of the best teams at scoring goals and they have solid depth players throughout their forward core. However, their leading scorer Andre Burakovsky is currently out of the lineup with a lower-body injury and was placed on the IR. The winger signed from Colorado in the offseason and he put up 39 points in 49 games prior to his injury.
Seattle is concluding a back-to-back after being defeated by New Jersey on Thursday night. With Phillip Grubauer starting in New Jersey, it is expected that Martin Jones will get the start for the Kraken. Jones has an outstanding record on the season at 23-8-3 with three shutouts. Despite a solid record, Jones has a save percentage of just .894. The 33-year-old earned a 3-2 overtime victory over the Rangers in November when they met in Seattle. Jones has lost his previous two starts and has allowed four goals in each of those games. The Rangers have scored at least four-goals in each of the past three games.
Will Cuylle was sent down to the AHL after a brief stint on the fourth-line. Cuylle will get more playing time and continue to grow while he is in the minors. Cuylle is expected to be a fourth-liner for the Rangers in years to come when the cap gets tighter.
What to Watch For?
How will the Rangers react to what is expected to be an emotional night with the bright lights of Broadway shining down on them and with the hockey world watching them? Many will be interested to see Tarasenko’s debut on the Rangers, who have already had a heck of a week. New York already beat Calgary on Monday which many neutral fans have considered one of the best games of the season so far. They also defeated the Canucks in a game in which they didn’t play their best hockey. Seattle’s legs should start to feel heavier as the game progresses due to playing on Thursday night. Can the Rangers take advantage of a team that were just defeated by their divisional rivals without their best player?
The other thing fans will be curious to see is how effective will the Rangers top power-play unit will be? As mentioned earlier, the Rangers power-play has not been as good as they had hoped it would be this season. Chytil’s addition will give them a new look as this will be the first time a change has been made by choice and not because of injury. They scored a power-play goal against the 32nd ranked penalty kill on Wednesday and will now face the 31st ranked penalty kill on Friday.
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