Tarasenko blossoming in 2nd full season with Blues
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Earlier this month, Vladimir Tarasenko became the youngest St. Louis Blues player in more than two decades to score 30 goals.
The 23-year-old Russian forward’s skill is known across the league.
“He has lots of skill,” said Pavel Datsyuk, the Detroit Red Wings forward and fellow countryman. “He’s a really nice person, he’s a talented guy and a hard worker, too, which is more important.”
Tarasenko was the 16th overall pick in 2010 and made it to the NHL during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He had 22 goals last season and was the Blues’ most potent offensive threat in their one-and-done playoff appearance against the Blackhawks last spring, getting four goals in six games.
This season, he’s a first-time All-Star and the player the opposition fears most.
“It took him a little while to adjust to the North American style,” said Buffalo forward and former teammate Chris Stewart. “But look at him now.”
Alexander Steen is one of the Blues’ best overall players, a tireless two-way standout. Tarasenko has the scoring touch.
“He’s extremely skilled and he’s got a heck of a shot,” Steen said. “That’s why he’s putting up the numbers.”
Tarasenko was tied with San Jose’s Joe Pavelski for fourth in the NHL with 31 goals, trailing only Steven Stamkos (32) and Rick Nash (37) and he’s scoring a point per game through 60 games. His plus-minus of plus-27 was also tied for fourth and he’s among the league leaders with five game-winning goals.
Tarasenko has two overtime goals and has been the Blues’ best player in the shootout with three goals on eight chances.
“He can take a wrist shot from the blue line in a split-second, no wind up or anything, and it gets on the goalie quicker than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. “A goalie can’t take his eyes off him for a second, or even a defenseman.”
The previous Blues player to score 30 goals at age 23 was Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan in 1991-92. Hall of Famer Brett Hull’s career skyrocketed at age 25 in 1989-90 when he racked up 72, 86 and 70 goals over a three-season span.
Shanahan finished with 33 goals in 1991-92. Without making any specific predictions, Tarasenko is shooting much higher.
“The year is not over yet,” he said. “Things are going good right now and I’ll try to keep it up every game.”
The Blues have yet to use Tarasenko at all times during the game. Coach Ken Hitchcock doesn’t use him to kill penalties, preferring to save the legs for offense.
Tarasenko’s signature move is a quick fake to the left that creates space to shoot. Hitchcock stresses the two-way aspect, and anticipates as Tarasenko matures, he’ll play 20 minutes per game instead of 17.
“When he’s checking well and the line is checking well, that’s when they get all of their offense,” Hitchcock said. “When that line checks, they are really dominant.”
Becoming more comfortable with the language and cultural differences aided Tarasenko’s take off. All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was Tarasenko’s first roommate on the road and can relate to the transition after playing in Finland during the lockout.
“He was very self-conscious about his language and English, but in actuality it was great,” Shattenkirk said. “We’d tell him, ‘You’re fine. You can order in a restaurant perfectly. Don’t stress it.’”
Tarasenko said the situation has improved, but added there’s plenty of room for growth.
“Sure, I feel more confidence right now. It’s way better right now,” Tarasenko said. “It’s hard, still.”
The Blues picked another forward, Jaden Schwartz, two spots before grabbing Tarasenko. The speedy Schwartz also has been a find with 46 points, a plus-16 rating and four game-winners.