Vladimir Tarasenko was considered a bubble player for Team Russia prior to the start of the 2013-14 NHL season. The young forward struggled during the second half of the lockout-shortened campaign last year after getting cold cocked by Mark Olver of the Colorado Avalanche, and it wasn’t clear where he’d potentially fit in on a talented Russian team.
He came to camp looking bigger and stronger, and that added muscle has allowed Tarasenko to become a bit of a puck magnet for the St. Louis Blues. Head coach Ken Hitchcock has been utilizing the 22-year-old in a variety of situations this year, and it will be interesting to see how Russia rolls Tarasenko out.
Odds are he’ll end up skating on the third line, but he’s been practicing on the second unit while Pavel Datsyuk centers Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk. It wouldn’t be surprising to see that flip-flopped, but you never know when it comes to line combinations.
Regardless of how Russia uses Tarasenko, the former first-round selection will be able to handle the work load. He shoots more than just about anyone else that plays for the Blues—he’s third on the team in shots, trailing only Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen—and he has solid takeaway numbers as well.
On a Russian squad where defense seems to be the glaring weakness, Tarasenko could be called upon to provide some two-way support regardless of where he lines up. It’s a stretch to think that he’ll end up with power play time, but he could be used as a bit of a wrinkle on a second unit.
Overall, playing in the Olympics in front of a hometown crowd should be an invigorating experience for the young man. Russia is one of the favorites to win Gold this year, and Tarasenko will be looking for carve out a role for himself when it comes to international play.
Tune into Russia’s first contest on February 13 to watch a dream come true for a hometown Blue.
For more Blues Olympian profiles, checkout BleedinBlue.com. Like us on Facebook to stay up-to-date with the latest posts and columns, and come hang out with us on Twitter to talk Blues hockey. Follow @BleedinBlueFS