Tarasenko arrives with plenty of hype
ST. LOUIS – If Vladimir Tarasenko can live up to even half the hype that surrounds him heading into the start of training camp Sunday, the Blues should be in pretty good shape.
The highly regarded prospect made his much-anticipated debut Friday, taking the ice at the St. Louis Mills to a standing room only crowd that featured many already wearing his No. 91 jersey.
The 21-year-old Tarasenko arrived in St. Louis Thursday night and took to the ice the next morning for the Blues’ final informal skate before training camp officially kicks off Sunday morning at Scottrade Center.
“You can see he plays at a pretty high level,” said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “He thinks quick. If you watch him, the skill he has is pretty amazing to watch. He’s got first line skill.
“He had a pretty good season over there and we know what he’s capable of, seeing him out there for the first time today, you can see what he brings to the table. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
The Blues selected Tarasenko with the 16th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft but he remained in Russia to play in the KHL. He had 23 goals and 30 assists in 54 games in 2011-2012 before deciding to join this Blues this past summer.
But after just a few weeks in St. Louis the NHL lockout started and Tarasenko decided to return to Russia to play until it ended. He played 31 games for St. Petersburg SKA and had 14 goals and 17 assists in just 31 games before leaving for St. Louis earlier this week.
“I’m really excited to be here,” Tarasenko said. “I was here in the summer for three weeks and I know the city, the restaurants and shops. That makes it easier.”
Asked about the differences between the KHL and the NHL, the Russian sensation said, “I think the first one is the rink. This one is smaller. The second one is the mental part. This is very difficult for me.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has seen Tarasekno play “20-to-25” games on tape. He plans to play him on a line with Andy McDonald and Alex Steen.
“The puck is on the net and it comes fast, it’s on his stick and it’s gone,” Hitchcock said. “He can put pucks through people. He’s a good offensive player so the rest of the game, we’re going to teach him. That’s going to take long term but if he can do the things offensively that we think he’s capable of, he’s going to contribute to our hockey club and help us a lot.”
Tarasenko arrives as one of the most highly regarded and hyped forwards that the Blues have had in several years. He watched several Blues games on television last season from Russia to get a feel for his future teammates and how they play.
And his teammates were easily impressed.
“I know it’s still early but he has a lot of speed, good awareness on the ice, pretty solid shot and he moves the puck well,” McDonald said. “It’s exciting.
“He’s a pretty complete player. His hockey sense, the ability to read the play, where your teammates are, where the defenders are - players like that are easy to play with and hopefully they don’t require any transition time. They are able to read off you right away and it makes the game easier.”
Tarasenko previously played for around 12,500 fans per game in Russia. He’ll likely play for 19,150 on most nights at Scottrade Center.
All of them will be watching his every move.