The New York Rangers chose to be aggressive a few weeks ahead of the NHL trade deadline, and it worked out in their favor.
On Thursday, the Rangers acquired winger Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola from the St. Louis Blues. In return, the Blues received Sammy Blais, prospect Hunter Skinner, a conditional 2023 first-round pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick.
This was a deal that made sense for both sides. The Rangers are Stanley Cup contenders in a very competitive Metropolitan Division, and they filled a need at the top of their lineup. The Blues, on the other hand, have fallen out of the playoff picture and needed to get something for Tarasenko before his contract expires this summer.
Let's take a deeper look at exactly how well each team fared in this trade.
New York Rangers
It was no secret that the Rangers were hoping to upgrade their top-six ahead of the trade deadline, and acquiring Tarasenko does exactly that. With six 30-goal seasons under his belt, Tarasenko brings the kind of scoring touch the Rangers have been looking for over the last several months.
In the 2021-22 season, Tarasenko was one of the best wingers in the NHL. In 75 games played, he scored 34 goals while adding a career high 48 assists. In the Blues' 12 playoff games, Tarasenko tallied six goals and nine points.
Speaking of the postseason, Tarasenko also brings a Stanley Cup pedigree to the Rangers. When the Blues won the Cup in 2019, Tarasenko was second on the team with 11 goals in 26 games.
Sometimes it can take a while for trade acquisitions to get comfortable with their new team, but Tarasenko might be a natural fit with the Rangers. He could slot in on the top line with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, and that could be a lethal combination almost instantly. Even if head coach Gerard Gallant wanted to go in a different direction, playing Tarasenko and Chris Kreider on the same line could be a headache for opposing defenders and goaltenders.
When it comes to Nikko Mikkola, he will play a depth role on the Rangers' blue line. He may not make a huge impact, but Mikkola should at least be an upgrade over Libor Hajek, who was waived after the deal was finalized.
If the Rangers gave up a haul to land Tarasenko, it would be tough to blame them given their status as a contender. However, general manager Chris Drury didn't have to give away the farm in this deal.
Blais, who will be returning to the Blues as part of this deal, scored zero goals in 54 games with the Rangers. Skinner is a former fourth-round pick who has been grinding away in the ECHL this season. The only significant asset the Rangers gave up in this trade was the conditional first-round pick, but they still have another first-round selection in the 2023 NHL Draft.
This was an excellent deal for a Rangers team that is in the middle of its championship window. They didn't have to give up much for Tarasenko, who has proven he can be an elite scorer when healthy, and they still have another first-round pick at their disposal if they want to make an additional big splash. Grade -- A
St. Louis Blues
It has been a hard season for the Blues, but that probably didn't make this move any easier. Tarasenko has been an integral part of the St. Louis organization for 11 seasons, and he helped the franchise hang its first Stanley Cup banner. Still, this was a move that had to be made as the Blues begin to rebuild around their young core.
Nine points out of a playoff spot with just 31 games remaining, the Blues realized they had to get something in exchange for Tarasenko, who will become a free agent this summer. St. Louis was able to get some draft capital, but it is hard not to be at least a little underwhelmed by this return.
Blais wasn't effective in his time with the Rangers, and it's hard to see him being part of the long-term future in St. Louis. Skinner is 21 years old and hasn't been able to carve out a regular role at the AHL level, which doesn't bode well for his NHL chances.
That leaves the draft picks as the biggest portion of the return. The first-round pick will help the Blues restock their prospect pool, but it will be the later of the Rangers' two first-round selections, per the conditions of the trade. The 2024 conditional fourth-round pick will become a third-round pick if the Rangers make the playoffs next year, which seems like a solid bet at this point.
The Blues were in a tough position here. Teams knew they had to deal Tarasenko before the deadline, and that cost them some leverage in trade talks. St. Louis was able to get some value out of a pending free agent, including a first-round pick, but the return does leave a little to be desired. Grade -- B