(HockeySTL)-- In a team sport such as hockey, it is hard to attribute any one outcome to a single player. But without Vladimir Tarasenko, Saturday’s win over the New York Islanders would have had a totally different endgame.
Tarasenko netted two of the Blues’ three regulation goals on Saturday. The goals were Tarasenko’s 16th and 17th tallies of the season. One was on a wrist shot taken just after entering the opponent zone; the other was scored using a similar technique, but this time from the slot. The wickedness of the shots had people around the league feeling sorry for goalie Kevin Poulin, who didn’t have a chance at stopping either puck. It also left people wondering if Tarasenko’s shot is perhaps the deadliest in the National Hockey League.
“It’s a lot like (Brett) Hull’s,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “Same way. It’s heavy, it’s fast.”
Hull is one of the NHL’s all-time great players, and is often said to have had the quickest and deadliest of releases the sport of hockey has ever seen. Hull could score from anywhere on the ice; he could make goalies look clueless. Poulin had a similar reaction on Tarasenko’s first goal on Saturday.
“I think the biggest thing he has going for him is his unpredictability,” said Hitchcock. When you are shooting at a goalie with your blade that square to the net, I don’t think any goalie can tell you where it’s going.”
Tarasenko said he worked on his shot this summer, listening advice given by his father, who has head coaching experience in the Kontinental Hockey League. His father told Tarasenko to worry less about his slap shot and to focus more on the release of his wrist shot.
“I don’t think (my shot) is any different from last year,” Tarasenko said. “Last season I guess I was a little scared to shoot it. My teammates and coaches told me to shoot more and my dad told me, to work on my wrist shot over the summer.”
Tarasenko has found the back of the net 17 times this season, which is second on the team to only Alexander Steen’s 26 goals. On the season, Tarasenko has 31 points, ten of which have come in January.
This month has been the most productive of the young forward’s 87-game career, and overall, this year has been a great launch pad for the Russian forward. But getting to this point was anything but easy.
The Blues drafted Tarasenko in the first round of the 2010 NHL draft. St. Louis had the No. 14 pick in that year’s draft and traded down to get the No. 16 pick as well, which they used to take Tarasenko. It is believed that Tarasenko had the skillset to be a top-ten pick in 2010, but the uncertainty surrounding his interest in coming to the NHL swayed teams and he was left dangling for St. Louis. He finally made the decision to join the Blues before last season, two years after being drafted by the club.
Tarasenko was well ahead of the learning curve as he had played 207 games in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League prior to coming to North America. But he had trouble adjusting to the new North American lifestyle, as well as the nuances of the NHL, such as the smaller ice.
“It was tough,” said Tarasenko. “The hardest part for me was switching from a bigger rink to a smaller rink. The game is different and more compact. I like this (size better). Sometimes it’s hard to beat someone with less open space, but it’s a challenge for everyone.”
The Russian forward really started to blossom late last season after recovering from a concussion that forced him to miss 10 games. However, his comfort has reached a whole new level this season. So much so, that he is willing to call St. Louis his new home.
“It’s helped me a lot,” said Tarasenko on establishing a new life in St. Louis. “I don’t have to worry about the life stuff, like (finding an) apartment. I feel pretty good right now. I feel like I’m home.”
“I think the comfort level is definitely playing into his success,” said Backes. “He’s been able to get to know some of the guys and that we are all good guys in here and he can be comfortable in his surroundings and be himself.”
Tarasenko, on the ice, is a player that exudes happiness. During interviews, the forward is a bit shyer as he continues to work on his comprehension of the English language, something he didn’t have much of a grasp on last season. But it was always easy for teammates to look past that and see the chipper personality of Tarasenko.
“Even with the language barrier he’s a great character and brings a smile to the rink everyday where he’s having fun and working hard,” said Backes. “It helps us all to do better.”
With 13 games to go before reaching the 100-game mark, Tarasenko already has 50 points in his young career. In less than a month, the forward will be headed home to Russia to compete in the 2014 Olympic Games. It’s an impressive resume for a 22-year old player with less than two years of NHL experience.
“He’s like no player we’ve had since I’ve been here in St. Louis,” said Backes, who has been with the Blues since the 2006-07 season. “It’s his dynamic ability to shoot the puck and score and beat guys one-on-one. He’s an anomaly, but a good one.”
The Blues found a gem in Tarasenko, both on and off the ice. The hype surrounding the forward’s on-ice skill was enormous when the Blues drafted him. What was sometimes overlooked was his personality. The Blues drafted someone who is a heck of a hockey player, an immense talent, but an even better person.
“He is sincere, he’s unselfish,” said Hitchcock. “I think that’s family upbringing. He’s a very respectful young man that really understands being a small part of a team.”
“He’s one of the most popular players on our team because he really embraces other people’s success and I think our players really love that in him.”