The St. Louis Blues’ 2020-21 season had its highs and lows, but ultimately ended in disappointment after the team fell in four games to the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1. In this series, we’ll look back on the season, player by player, and evaluate each player’s performance as an individual, with an eye towards their future with the team.
Niko Mikkola emerged as a dependable, young player on the back-end for the Blues in 2020-21. We saw some flashes during the 2019-20 season where he played in five games, but this season, he played in 30 games and was solid overall for the Blues. The 25-year-old Finnish defender certainly cemented himself as a serious contender to be a part of the Blues’ future on the blueline, no doubt about it.
What Went Right: Consistent Playing Time
For the first time in his young NHL career, Mikkola played consistently in the Blues’ lineup. While he was still in and out of it for a lot of the season, he ended up playing 30 games in a 56-game season, being on the ice for the majority of March, April and May.
He definitely benefitted from the Blues injuries on the back-end with Colton Parayko, Vince Dunn and Carl Gunnarsson all missing significant time during the season, but he absolutely played his way into having a serious chance to make the opening night roster for 2021-22, dependent on what they do this summer.
Overall, it had to feel good for Mikkola to get his feet under him throughout the season and start to feel more comfortable in the NHL. He played all four of the Blues playoff games as well, another big moment for him. However, his play wasn’t always where it needed to be – with most rookies, that holds true.
What Went Wrong: Inconsistent Play
Most Blues defenders struggled this season, Mikkola was the same way – he played a lot, but never found his consistent play. Although there were a couple of weeks there where he played well, he never found his game and he would probably tell you that.
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He played over 20 minutes in two of the final four games for St. Louis, showing that head coach Craig Berube had some trust in him down the stretch. He scored his first career goal this season and tallied two assists as well – nobody ever expected him to produce points, so those numbers aren’t the issue.
His Corsi for percentage (CF%), which is a metric for puck possession, was only 43.3. That number ranked fourth-worst on the team at even strength, only behind Dakota Joshua, Tyler Bozak and Oskar Sundqvist.
- Playoff Stats: 4 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point
- 36 blocked shots (8th on team)
- 18 giveaways (11th on team)
Final Grade: C+
This may be unfair, but I thought Mikkola’s play was right around where we expected it would be for most of the season, so I think this is proper. He was OK for what they needed from him, but when it comes to the duty of grading him, I think the “C+” indicates that he was an average player for what they wanted and that is fine.
What’s Next for Mikkola?
While he lacked production and had inconsistent moments throughout the season, as I mentioned earlier, he played his way into a possible role for the 2021-22 season. Depending on what the Blues do this summer, I’d say he’s in the No. 6-8 range of defensemen on the depth chart for next season.
He is a big body defender, with room to grow and a possibility to become more physical. Unless an unexpected trade happens, I expect Mikkola to have a shot at being a third pairing defenseman in 2021-22.
I expect him to be in a good spot this offseason to take his game to the next level – with the hopes of next season being normal, that has to help the younger players without much NHL experience under their belt. The Blues clearly like the player – let’s see if he can maximize his potential for the 2021-22 season.