The St. Louis Blues have counted on Vladimir Tarasenko to be a leader in point production for a few seasons now. Whether he knows it or not, he is now becoming a leader for the team in other ways too.
When the St. Louis Blues drafted Vladimir Tarasenko, they sort of lucked into the guy. They had already picked Jaden Schwartz a few picks earlier, but Tarasenko kept sliding down the draft board.
The team knew, or at least hoped, they would be getting the kind of talent they indeed ended up with. They did not know, or could not know, that he would continue to grow into a take-charge type of guy.
When Tarasenko first came into the Blues, there were several guys that did their best to help him ease into life in the NHL and in North America. Ryan Reaves and Kevin Shattenkirk became fast friends with the young scorer, despite the trio having little in common on the surface and not speaking the same language.
That had to have been the hardest part of the transition for Tarasenko. Going anywhere and not being able to converse even simple things has to be frustrating, even if you know your teammates have the best intentions.
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“Guys helped me a lot,” Tarasenko said to Jim Thomas of the Post-Dispatch. “But when you have someone to talk to in your own language, it’s kind of (nice).”
With that in mind, Tarasenko has done his best to help out his Russian teammates however he can. Sometimes it might just be a chat in their native language and nothing more.
“It started from one Russian player to six on the team right now, so it’s pretty funny to me right now,” Tarasenko continued. “I have someone to talk my native language.”
That could be huge for those players and might give them an edge compared to what Tarasenko had. It’s not going to make them better players, but it might make them more at ease and able to live up to their potential quicker.
The Blues ran into the same “Russian issue” with Klim Kostin. If having Tarasenko around can take off even a little pressure, then Kostin has a chance to bloom even sooner. Even if he doesn’t make it this year, maybe having Tarasenko ease the cultural barriers makes it more plausible for him to play a full season right away when that time comes.
It is already helping guys that have a little more experience with the Blues. Ivan Barbashev has looked very comfortable so far in camp.
While he already had more experience with the English language than some of his other teammates, having played in Canadian juniors, it must be nice to have fellow countrymen around. “I’m pretty sure those guys, they’re not really good in English, and Vladi has been helping them out a lot,” Barbashev said regarding some of the other Russian Blues.
It might be a small thing to those of us that have lived our entire lives in one spot or, at least, in English speaking places. Having cultural differences is one thing, but when you cannot even speak the language, it is another matter.
My wife is Canadian. Coming from a more rural area, there was a bit of culture shock when she came to the states and had small differences such as sauces or simple changes in menus. However, you could still have conversations with people and get to know others.
These guys have to learn an entirely different language and the only thing more foreign to English than Russian could only be some of the Asian languages. That can be daunting in and of itself, but when you absolutely have to communicate some way to guys on the ice, it puts even more pressure on.
Again, who knows what will become of players like Barbashev or Kostin or any of the other Russians on the team. Maybe their talents won’t pan out.
I think having Tarasenko ease their language burden and helping them learn the culture takes away the excuses though. They can now just focus on hockey and the nuances of the NHL style. That might pay dividends if they are as talented as we hope.