Friday, September 28, 2012

Prospect Watch: Vladimir Tarasenko

Many Canadians will remember Vladimir Tarasenko as the captain of the gold medal Russian team at the 2011 World Junior Championships in which they had that miraculous third period comeback. Well, now it's time for Tarasenko to make his NHL debut this season with the St. Louis Blues if this lockout ever ends.. The 20-year-old was drafted 16th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, and would have been a top five pick if there weren't concerns over his contract status because his father and coach of his team, Sibir Novosibrisk of the KHL, thought it was best for him to grow as a player in Russia. This left many NHL GM's unsure of his desire to play in North America.

Luckily for the St. Louis Blues, they felt Tarasenko was worth the risk with his blazing speed and elite scoring ability. His play in Russia and on the international stage has only hammered these points home with plenty of impressive performances since being drafted. It really wouldn't surprise us at all if Tarasenko ended up scoring 40+ goals in a few years. Sure it will take him some time adjusting to the smaller ice surface and playing against the world's top players, but with his skillset, Tarasenko can become an elite offensive forward in the NHL.

What will help Tarasenko adjust in North America is that he won't be a star on the strong St. Louis Blues team and he should be placed in situations that will help him grow as an NHL player. It should be much easier for him to slowly make his mark on the team instead of entering the league with lots of pressure on his shoulders to produce offensively (see every Toronto Maple Leaf prospect).

Tarasenko is listed at 6' and 200lbs so he shouldn't have much trouble with the bigger bodies of the NHL. He has been playing in the KHL since he was 16 and plays a gritty style of play that you don't usually see from high end offensive talent. He posted some very solid numbers in the KHL scoring 23 goals and putting up 47 points in 54 games last season in a split between HC Sibir Novosibirsk and SKA St. Petersburg. Tarasenko's point totals were good enough for 8th overall in points and 5th overall in goal scoring. He's definitely ready to make the jump across the pond and could even make the NHL Skills Competition Breakaway Challenge a better event to watch.

If this Lockout ever ends than Tarasenko is going to be an exciting player to watch on the Blues and should challenge for 2nd line minutes and get some solid powerplay time. Tarasenko has Calder Memorial Trophy written all over him if his offensive game makes the trip to North America as well. While it was hoped that Tarasenko might join the Blues AHL affiliate in Peoria, Tarasenko ultimately decided to return to SKA St. Petersburg where he has a chance to play with Ilya Kovalchuk. Tarasenko started his KHL return with a goal in his first game and if you have a chance to you should follow this promising prospect in the KHL during the Lockout and look for him to make some noise with the Blues if the NHL season isn't cancelled.


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