The Rangers pry elite talent out of the West 

The New York Rangers acquired forward Vladimir Tarasenko in a blockbuster deal.


Max Van Hosen

Vladimir Tarasenko is the New York Rangers’ latest player acquisition.(Illustration by Max Van Hosen)

Ahaan Sabherwal, Staff Writer

Though the trade deadline is not for a few weeks, the local New York Rangers and New York Islanders have both made significant splashes in their pursuit of a Stanley Cup run. On the heels of the New York Islanders’ trade that brought star centerman Bo Horvat to Long Island, the Rangers have made their own big move.

On Feb. 9, the Rangers shipped out Sammy Blais and Hunter Skinner — a conditional 2023 first-round pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick — to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for star forward Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola. Though this trade may seem straightforward, it has various caveats and questions attached to it. Each player and asset has an intriguing history, and a future worth noting.

Forward Blais is headed back to St. Louis after a brief two-year stint with the Rangers, which started in 2021. He was previously drafted by the Blues organization in 2014, playing with the club from 2017 to 2021 — and winning a Stanley Cup in the process. A smart forechecker with an impressive physical sense, Blais has an inability to contribute offensively, making him expendable. Though the Rangers will miss his physicality, the organization could probably find a better replacement for him off of waivers.

Skinner, however, is a more intriguing name. A young defenseman prospect drafted back in 2019 by the Rangers, Skinner has split time across various minor leagues, but seems to have some potential as a player in the NHL. Nonetheless, having not made much of an impression on the Rangers’ front office, they let him go as part of this deal. He is a bit of an odd piece for the Blues to pick up considering he was not a high draft pick and has not excelled in any league thus far. Perhaps the Blues see his size, strength and heavy shot as useful for either their minor league team or a depth NHL role. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if he develops into an impact regular NHL player.

The two picks going to the Blues, specifically the first round draft choice, is where most of the value on this side of the deal resides. The Rangers have two first-round picks this year: one they acquired from Dallas, and the other their own. The Blues will receive the weaker of the two picks. However, if the Dallas pick is in the top 10, previous conditions dictate that the pick will be held by the Stars, and the Rangers will then get Dallas 2024 first-rounder. Should this occur, St. Louis will then receive the weaker of the 2024 first-round selections.

The potential 2023 first-rounder is intriguing, as this year’s draft is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memories — comparable even to the 2015 and 2003 entry drafts. There are four or five players who could be first overall selections in other drafts, and all of the top 40 players are real candidates for successful NHL careers. 

Most teams are trying to hold onto this year’s draft, so with a little bit of luck, St. Louis could land a serious franchise asset.

Mikkala is the less valuable player of the two players coming to the Big Apple. A solid third pairing depth defenseman, Mikkola is a big, physical player with a surprisingly good stride. He has not found much success in St. Louis, but a change of scenery and a shift to a far more successful club this season should help him. In the playoffs, when games are more physical and fast, having a brutish defenseman is a very valuable asset. Furthermore, with injuries occurring often, any added depth is useful.

The biggest piece in the whole deal is Tarasenko. A four-time all-star, the Electronic Arts Sports NHL18 cover athlete and a Stanley Cup champion, Tarasenko is a superstar. Having been a consistent 30+ goals winger in the NHL, Tarasenko is an elite, pure shooter, adding reliable scoring depth to a team that feels too reliant on streaky players. Though his seasons have been inconsistent, this can be attributed to a long-term injury that sidelined him throughout the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons. Last season, when he was healthy, Tarasenko scored an incredible 34 goals and tallied 82 points. 

Most recently, this season has been rough due a steep decline in the quality of play by the Blues, as well as the supposed friction between Tarasenko and management. However, a chance to play with countryman Artemi Panarin and a much more dynamic club should lead to a quick resurgence in goals. A major reason why this deal went through is that Tarasenko is on an expiring contract, and the Blues have retained 50% of his salary. If possible, the Rangers should try to extend him to a contract, if only to trade him. Nevertheless, the back half of the season is here, which means hockey is about to get even more exciting.

Contact Ahaan Sabherwal at [email protected].