Rangers steal Tarasenko in key deal with Blues, beef up on blue line with Mikkola, Blais goes back to St. Louis in trade

In a move that came very quickly this afternoon, the Rangers acquired Vladimir Tarasenko from the Blues.

The 31-year old veteran right wing who scored 34 goals last season was added for one reason. To fill a void. Ever since Team President and GM Chris Drury dumped Pavel Buchnevich ironically on the Blues due to the hard cap, the Rangers lacked a top scoring right wing who could finish.

By trading for the six-time 30-goal scorer, who helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup in 2019, the Rangers are hoping Tarasenko can flourish on the first line while playing with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. If it works out, that would give coach Gerard Gallant a dynamic top scoring line. That’s at least the hope.

Even better, Drury was able to beef up the blue line by also getting tough left defenseman Niko Mikkola. The full deal saw Sammy Blais return to St. Louis, along with D prospect Hunter Skinner, and the lower of two 2023 first round picks, the Rangers have. They own the Stars’ first from the Nils Lundkvist trade and their own.

By adding Tarasenko, it addresses a scoring need. The big move should allow Gallant to move Jimmy Vesey back into a checking role where he’s better suited. Vesey has done an admirable job, earning a contract extension by scoring nine goals and nine assists for a solid 18 points in his Broadway encore.

Following a third shoulder procedure, Tarasenko hasn’t been as productive. However, he played on a mediocre St. Louis club that has been Jekyll and Hyde all season long. In 38 games, he has 10 goals with 19 assists for 29 points. He also was a minus-18. Hopefully, that’s more due to the team he played on.

For nearly two years, Tarasenko had wanted out of St. Louis. Despite all the success playing for a good franchise that boasts some of the game’s best fans, he wanted a change. To his credit, Tarasenko still produced a career high 82 points (34-48-82) in ’21-22, including nine game-winners. He went 6-3-9 in the playoffs.

For his outstanding 11-year career, he finishes with 262 goals, 291 assists, and 553 points in 644 games, all with the Blues. The 262 goals rank fifth on the all-time franchise goal list. His 553 points are also fifth on the franchise scoring list. Tarasenko places fourth most among Blues with 196 even strength goals. He ranks sixth in power play goals with 65.

If he’s healthy and motivated, which seems to be the case, then it’s a low risk move. With the Blues picking up half the tab of a $7.5 million cap hit that sure helps out the Rangers, what’s not to like? He’s a rental. Either it comes together or doesn’t. They sure didn’t give up a lot.

Blais never was the same after returning from that cheap slewfoot from P.K. Subban that ended his 2021-22 with an ACL tear. He even went down recently on a conditioning stint and scored four goals at Hartford. To his credit, he played an honest game, finishing checks and playing hard on the fourth line.

It didn’t work out. Blais finishes his Rangers career with no goals and nine assists, including five this season. The nine points came in 54 games. The same as a 54-year Cup drought that ended in 1994. It also recalls a failed coaching stint for Bryan Trottier. Yuck.

Blais is a good team player. Hopefully, it’ll go better for him back in familiar territory. He helped the Blues win their only Cup. An unrestricted free agent this summer, I wish him the best of luck. His career hangs in the balance.

The Rangers also parted with former 2019 fourth round pick Hunter Skinner. Hopefully, that’ll be better for his pro career. He’s spent some time playing in the ECHL and AHL. After putting up eight points for Jacksonville, he had two assists in eight games for the Wolf Pack. The Wyandotte, Michigan native is 21.

There are also two conditional picks. If you reference what New York Post beat writer Mollie Walker said, the Blues will receive the later of the two first round picks in the 2023 NHL Draft. There’s also a condition on a 2024 fourth round pick, which would become a third if the Rangers make the playoffs.

As expected, Drury decided to take the easier route. Rather than try for Timo Meier, who is going to be heavily pursued, or see if Patrick Kane would become available, he thought it would be better to pry Tarasenko for a more affordable price. Who can argue with that logic?

I never believed Kane would wind up on Broadway. It didn’t make sense. He’s 34 and will need hip surgery. The Blackhawks would’ve asked for more than what the Blues did. The Rangers weren’t going to overpay.

Nobody even knows what Kane wants to do. At last check, he was given a list of teams to see if he’s open to a trade. I can see him landing in Toronto, Carolina, or New Jersey. Though I truly believe the Devils will make a serious run at Meier. Especially with Hughes out for a while. He makes a lot of sense for them. He’s the best available player on the market and would be a significant upgrade.

Mikkola is a 6-4, 209-pound left defenseman who plays tough. He has a lot more NHL experience than Ben Harpur, who struggled in the Rangers’ 4-3 win over the Canucks with Braden Schneider. That probably moved the process along faster.

Mikkola can pair up with Schneider. An upgrade over Harpur, who can stay as the extra defenseman. Due to a numbers game, Libor Hajek was finally waived. He hadn’t played in two months. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to survive this time. Hopefully, someone will pick him up. He worked hard. That’s all you can ask for.

Prior to the trade, the Rangers also sent down Will Cuylle back to Hartford. He didn’t have a good third game last night. Personally, I think they wanted to give him taste to see what they had. He can play top minutes with the Wolf Pack, who are pushing for the playoffs. That would be more beneficial for his first pro year.

At the moment, the fourth line could look like this:


That’s if Gallant decides to switch Vesey onto the third line with Chris Kreider and Vincent Trocheck. He has a good choice between the versatile Goodrow and Vesey. Either player can play third or fourth line.

In regards to the checking line, it’s likely that Drury will look to improve there. Leschyshyn has done okay on face-offs. But he isn’t exactly the best fit. There are some better available players that could fit well in that role.

Sam Lafferty tops the list. He can take draws, finish checks, play penalty kill, and contribute on the score sheet. Isn’t that what they’re looking for? There’s also Max Domi, Tanner Jeannot, and Tyler Motte. All should be available.

Finally, in regards to Vitaly Kravtsov, Drury basically laid it on Gallant. He heaped some praise on the former 2018 first round pick. The opposite of some of the ridiculous talking points some skewed fans have due to what happened last year. They brought him back.

Basically, Turk has screwed Kravtsov over. That’s been known for a while. He has his preferences. Kravtsov just doesn’t fit into his plans. He has positive possession numbers. For those crying over his production (3-3-6 in 27 GP), how did Alexis Lafreniere perform when Gallant kept yo-yo-ing him around?

When it comes to handling young players, they must have a clearly defined role. That’s never been the case for Kravtsov, who got unfairly punished for mistakes made by elder statesmen Trocheck and Panarin in a loss to Boston. He has since vanished after two fourth line cameos.

The likely outcome is Kravtsov being sold at lower value as March 3 nears. We’ll see what happens.

Alright. All caught up. Both newest Rangers will make their debut tomorrow night at MSG when the Kraken visit. Get ready.


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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