Rangers find simplicity in improving 3rd defensive pairing

Rangers finally have a strong final defensive pairing
New York Rangers defenseman Braden Schneider (4) defends against Vegas Golden Knights left wing William Carrier (28) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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It’s hard not to feel confident about the New York Rangers over the last month of the NHL season. New York has lost just once in regulation in the month of February while beating top teams like Carolina, Seattle, and Edmonton. 

Part of the reason for the Blueshirts’ recent surge has been the trade acquisition of Vladimir Tarsasenko which has helped propel New York’s offense into being one of the best in the league.

But it’s an underrated piece that was a part of that deal that might be the deciding factor in the Rangers’ championship push. 

Some may see Niko Mikkola as a throw-in as part of the trade that brought an all-star to the Rangers, but the team doesn’t see it that way. “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 spoke about Mikkola when the trade was announced.

Mikkola has done a good job getting acclimated, not just to the changing climate from St. Louis to New York, but also with a new partner on defense with Braden Schneider.

“I think each game we’ve gotten better. We’re communicating a lot. He’s a big boy with a lot of stick and skates like the wind. He’s a guy that’s easy to play with. I’ve enjoyed playing with him so far. He plays hard and it’s been a lot of fun.” Schneider told AMNY on Monday. 

It’s been only five games with the Rangers but Mikkola has put up some pretty solid numbers. The 26-year-old has an assist with 11 hits, five blocked shots, and two takeaways, all while helping New York go 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. 

“We’re definitely feeling really high with our confidence right now. We’re not afraid to make plays and the basis of our game has been really keeping it simple and making sure that our defense in our own end has been really well.” Schneider added. 

It hasn’t been the easiest year for the Rangers when it comes to finding a defensive player that could pair up with Schneider’s growing skillset. Ben Harpur, Zac Jones, and others were considered passable options before the trade for Mikkola without either doing enough to earn the position outright. 

Playing behind top superstars like Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, and other top options also means that playing time is scarce to make a positive impression. So far though, it’s been a pretty solid run for the Blueshirts as they look to get ready for another chance at a Stanley Cup Championship. 

“Our guys aren’t afraid to make plays. It’s been a great year so far.”

For more New York Rangers news, turn to AMNY.com