Vladimir Tarasenko is quickly becoming one of the St. Louis Blues best players. Last night in Nashville he led the Blues to victory again and hope to do the same in Chicago tonight.
When Russian Prospect Vladimir Tarasenko was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2010 it was considered a gamble. Had Tarasenko been playing in North America at the time he would have been a contender for the first overall pick, but since he was in the KHL playing for his father, many thought that he would never come to the NHL. Doug Armstrong was willing to take the risk when he traded defensive prospect David Rundblad to the Ottawa Senators for the 16th overall pick, and it may have been his best move as General Manager.
While St. Louis Blues fans and the media alike are all raving about the great Tarasenko now, the road to the NHL has been a long one and fans should not expect every night to be like the first two. As we reported back in November:
Tarasenko’s professional career began back in the 2008-2009 season while playing for HC Sibir. That season he appeared in only 38 games and managed to put up seven goals and three assists as the modest beginnings to what looks to be an all-star career. That season Tarasenko was the runner up for the KHL Rookie of the Year, an honor that he also has the potential to win in the NHL whenever they get back to the ice.
Tarasenko’s time in the KHL has been one of success. His sophomore year he returned to play in Sibir as the 7th youngest player in the entire league. Playing as a boy among men, Tarasenko took the KHL by storm that season managing 13 goals and 11 assists in 42 games. The next season Tarasenko would again appear in some 42 games but scored only 9 goals and 10 assists. While his point totals throughout his first three seasons in the KHL failed to surpass 24 points, it is important to remember that he was playing in a league with full grown men, who had already proven themselves worthy of being in perhaps the second most competitive league. During this time, Tarasenko was also not receiving much time of the ice, playing in the bottom six most of his time on the ice.
In International play, Tarasenko made his premier in the 2009 IIHF World U18 Champtionships. In only 7 games Tarasenko managed to score some 8 goals and 7 assists all while winning a Silver Medal. In 2010, Tarasenko returned to the international spotlight in the 2010 World Junior Championships scoring 4 goals and 1 assist in only 6 games. Unfortunately, the Russian team that year suffered quite a bit an did not place, but rather finished 6th overall. After the disappointing finish the year before, Tarasenko was named team captain in 2011. This time, he managed 4 goals and 7 assists for 11 points in just seven games, again reaching the championship game. This time, the Russians would come out on top giving Tarasenko his first major award, a Gold Medal.
It would make sense then too, that Tarasenko’s breakout year would come in 2011-2012. This season Tarasenko would be traded by his hometown team to SKA St. Petersburg. For most of the season, Tarasenko played quality ice time for HC Sibir and put up an impressive 18 goals and 20 assists through 39 games. If you aren’t great with math, that is almost a point-per-game at 38 points in 39 games. This is when Blues fans could finally see that the young Russian was well worth the wait to watch. After the trade to SKA, Tarasenko would see his ice time reduced, but in the 15 games he did play for them in the regular season, he put up 5 goals and 4 assists good for 9 points. At the end of the regular season Tarasenko had a total of 23 goals and 24 assists for 47 points. Keep in mind again, this is a pro league with a 19/20 year-old playing against men in their primes and he still scored 47 points in just 54 games. In the playoffs that season, Tarasenko appeared in another 15 games for SKA and got an incredible 10 goals and 6 assists. That is more than a point-per-game!
Following the 2011-2012 KHL season, Tarasenko agreed to a 3 year deal with the Blues that would have seen him play his rookie season this year, just after having a breakout season in Russia. Once the lockout was imminent there was talk that the young Russian would stay in the United States and play top line minutes for the Peoria Rivermen, a move that many would have preferred and would have allowed him to adjust to the size of the North American Rink. Instead, Tarasenko decided not to pass up perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play on the same line as Ilya Kovalchuk.
When Tarasenko came back to St. Louis the energy surrounding the young player had reached an all time high. Once Tarasenko finally did hit the ice in St. Louis, we all know what happened. With 5 points after his first two NHL games, there is a lot of talk about how great Tarasenko could be throughout his career. There is not doubt that he is going to be a star, but we have to remember that he is still a very young player and he could hit a hard spot or two throughout the season.
Like all Blues fans, I look forward to seeing what else Tarasenko can do in the Blue Note and hope that he can tear up the Chicago Blackhawks tonight.
LET’S GO BLUES!