Finnish-connection key to Rangers important blockbuster trade

Niko Mikkola and Kaapo Kakko reunite for Rangers
FILE – St. Louis Blues defenseman Niko Mikkola, left, works against Seattle Kraken defenseman Vince Dunn during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, in Seattle. The New York Rangers have acquired Vladimir Tarasenko and depth defenseman Niko Mikkola from the Blues, in a deal that sent conditional 2023 first- and 2024 fourth-round picks, forward Sammy Blais and prospect Hunter Skinner to St. Louis.(AP Photo/Stephen Brashear, File)
AP Photos

The trade that sent Vladimir Taraesnko to the Rangers was seen as a major bombshell that shook the rest of the NHL world Thursday afternoon. 

But an additional name heading to New York with Tarasenko could be as important as the top goal scorer. 

As part of the blockbuster trade that sent Sammy Blais and Hunter Skinner to St. Louis, the Rangers also acquired defenseman Nico Mikkola. The 26-year-old defenseman has recorded three assists in 50 games played. His experience was something that was highly touted as a piece the Rangers could definitely use. 

“This was a piece that I really wanted in there and to have it in there now and not wait on it…He’s a really good shutdown defenseman,” general manager Chris Drury said after the trade was finalized. 

Much will be made about the connection between Artemi Panarin and Vladimir Tarasenko, but it’s the relationship between Mikkola and Kaapo Kakko that has brought a comfortable feel to the current Blueshirts locker room.

“I played with him on the national team in 2019. He got a big smile when I walked in the locker room yesterday.” Mikkola laughed. 

Mikkola and Kakko are now the only two Finnish players on the Rangers currently. That connection alone makes one of New York’s bright young stars even happier. 

“I’ve been waiting for that for four years to get some Finnish guy over here with me. All of us here are good guys but sometimes those that speak like you would be a little easier.” Kakko explained. “I know him already so he’s a good guy. We played together on the national team and he was a little older but still going.”

The trade for Tarasenko and Mikkola is expected to pay dividends right away for New York. A need for depth on defense and a top winger on offense were both filled Thursday afternoon. Even though Tarasenko expected and hoped for a trade, the move surprised Mikkola.

“There was some talk that I might get traded before the deadline. I guess it was 50-50. I didn’t expect it to happen that soon. It was the first time for me.” Mikkola said. “It’s pretty hectic but here we are playing hockey so it’s fun.”

Mikkola understands that his role as a defender is to play a similar, physical role that he did in St. Louis. It’s far easier when players like Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, and K’Andre Miller are playing above you as well. 

As the Rangers get set for the beginning of a key back-to-back against Seattle and Carolina, getting both Tarasenko and Mikkola up to speed will be of vital importance. For the two players though, they understand the expectations that come with playing for a cup-contending team like New York.

“I know they have a good team. It’s the same team they had last year. I know it’s a good team and we’ll try to win a cup here. I’m excited.” Mikkola concluded. 

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