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Niko Mikkola should remain in the Blues’ lineup

The budding defenseman is slowly making a name for himself.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Blues drafted defenseman Niko Mikkola with the 127th overall pick at the 2015 NHL Draft. He previously played the Liiga’s KalPa and Tappara. He’s a native of Kiiminki, Finland.

Mikkola opted to continue his professional hockey career with the Liiga, despite the Blues reportedly showing interest in having him sign an entry-level deal in 2017. But he still had a desire to play in the NHL, so he ended up deciding to attend the Blues’ training camp ahead of the 2017-18 NHL season. He played in just two preseason games before returning to Tappara, where he played only one season of his two-year contract.

Mikkola is a 25-year-old Finn who worked hard to get to where he is today. He got the nod to make his NHL debut in the Blues’ 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on January 7, 2020.

Fast forward to this season, where Mikkola played in just two of the Blues’ first 17 games. However, he returned to the team’s lineup two weeks ago. He plays alongside Colton Parayko as the first defensive pair. He only played with Parayko three times before this stretch, but so far, so good. The duo might be the shutdown defensive pair that the team has been looking for since Jay Bouwmeester announced his retirement.

“I think they’ve learned to really feed off each other defensively,” Blues head coach Craig Berube told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “Right now, they’re both playing aggressive and closing plays out. Killing plays in our own zone and breaking plays up and getting the puck out of our zone.”

I’m aware Mikkola likely isn’t the best defenseman ever. Right now, he has just four points (two goals, two assists) in 19 games so far this season. He has a minus-one rating along with 18 penalty minutes. But he has been showing growth on the ice. The Blues are a team that needs to build a good defensive unit from the ground up.

Mikkola has plenty of time to grow defensively. But I think his growth has to accelerate as the Blues’ season is halfway over. If the Blues want to make the playoffs and make a deep playoff run, they have to up their defense because that could make or break their postseason success this season.