ST. LOUIS – So much for Russian Vladimir Tarasenko needing time to adjust to the NHL game. Turns out the rest of the league better start adjusting to him.
The rookie sensation scored his fourth goal in four games to start the season to help the St. Louis Blues to a 3-0 win over the Nashville Predators at Scottrade Center Thursday night.
Tarasenko arrived as one of the most-hyped Blues forwards in several years but many cautioned that it would take time for him to adjust to the differences between the KHL in Russia and the NHL.
It hasn’t happened yet.
Already a fan favorite, the 21-year-old Tarasenko added to his storybook start Thursday when he streaked down the left side following a line change, took a pass from Alex Steen and slid it past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne midway through the third period.
Four goals in four games. Not a bad start to his NHL career.
“That’s a good way to start your pro career without a doubt,” said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, Tarasenko’s roommate on the road. “I think he keeps getting more confidence every game and he has those two older guys who have been around for a while and talking him through things, that goes a long way.
“It’s funny, there are those players who always seem to come out of scrums with pucks or find their ways into a scoring area and he’s definitely one of those guys.”
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 a few weeks ago.
“He’s been contributing a whole lot,” said forward Patrik Berglund. “He’s very respected in the locker room. He’s a humble guy and a great guy. Obviously playing with Andy Mac and Steener, two great players that help him every day in practice and in games, he’s in really good hands.
“Obviously in games you can see what he can do, everybody can be good in practice. He’s doing his job and we’re really happy that he’s this hot right now.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock decided to put Tarasenko on a line with veterans Andy McDonald and Alex Steen, a move that appears to have paid off instantly. The three appear to already have plenty of chemistry despite just a week of practices before the season.
Hitchcock watched Tarasenko play about 20 games on video before he arrived in St. Louis. And so far, he’s been just as impressed with what he saw on tape.
“He’s a very competitive player,” Hitchcock said. “He’s playing the way we thought he could play.”
Tarasenko scored two goals in the Blues’ season-opening win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday and added a third goal two days later in Nashville.
The Scottrade Center crowd chanted “Tarasenko! Tarasenko!” for several seconds following Thursday’s goal.
“He’s a great player,” said forward T.J. Oshie. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, he wants to score and you can tell every time he gets the puck he’s looking for a way to put the puck in the net.
“I think that’s something maybe we’ve been missing the last couple years. We’ve had guys who can put the puck in the net but I haven’t seen anyone or played with anyone who wants to put the puck in the net like he does.”
And his teammates haven’t been the only ones to be impressed with his start to the season. Cardinals third baseman David Freese tweeted Thursday night, “The dude is something else! #91”