Rangers General Manager Chris Drury wanted to strike while the iron was hot.
“It’s something we’ve been looking at for awhile. When the pieces started coming together, I didn’t really see any reason to wait,” Drury said after he pulled the trigger on a deal that thrusts the Rangers into being a prime Stanley Cup contender.
Drury acquired two time All Star right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and physical defenseman Niko Mikkola from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for left wing Sammy Blais, prospect defenseman Hunter Skinner, a conditional first round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and a conditional fourth round pick in 2024.
In order for the Rangers to fit Tarasenko’s salary under the cap, the Blues agreed to pick up 50% of his remaining salary. Tarasenko is in the final year of an eight year contract and is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but he had to waive his no trade clause to come here.
The 31-year old had 10 goals and 19 assists in 38 games this season but he became disillusioned in St. Louis and had previously expressed a desire to play with the Rangers. A change of scenery could be just what Tarasenko needs to play up to his potential.
The Rangers have been seeking, a top six, scoring right wing and Tarasenko fills the bill. Tarasenko, who, arguably, could’ve been the Conn Smythe winner in 2019 when the Blues won the Stanley Cup, will likely play with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad to form a formidable top line.
Drury consulted Panarin, who is a good friend of Tarasenko, before making the trade. “I did have a quick conversation with Artemi. We’re excited to have him [Tarasenko] in the group and I think he’ll fit in nicely,” the Rangers GM said.
The kid line, led by emerging start Filip Chytil, will stay intact while the other two lines may look like this when it’s all said and done:
Chris Kreider-Vincent Trocheck-Jimmy Vesey
Jake Leschyshyn-Barclay Goodrow-Julian Gauthier (Will Cuylie was sent to Hartford to make room on the roster)
Tarasenko has six different 30-goal seasons. Since the 2014-2015 season, he is one of three skaters in the NHL to put 33-plus goal seasons in six or more different seasons. The other two are Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews. (Thank You @NYRStatsInfo)
Tarasenko will also provide another weapon on, what has been, an inconsistent and underachieving power play. The Rangers are in the middle of the pack in Power Play Percentage at a little over 21% and have had too many stretches where they go without scoring a power play goal for extended periods of time. With the talent they’re putting out there, the Rangers should be and need to be better with the man advantage.
Mikkola gives the Rangers a big, physical defenseman to play with Braden Schneider on the third pair. 6’6” Ben Harpur did a decent job, but figures to lose playing time because the 6’4” Mikkola plays a more physical game and is a better defender.
Tarasenko enhances the Rangers’ chances of winning a Stanley Cup. With the accumulation of young talent on the roster, the Rangers won’t be able to keep all of them for the long haul, so it’s worth the price of Blais, the prospect defenseman Skinner and the draft picks to take a run at it now.