(HockeySTL)-- If you ask players and coaches around the league, they’ll tell you that Vladimir Tarasenko is a rising star. But if you ask the accused, he’ll opt to change the subject to teammates or the team.
That’s the type of player Tarasenko is. He’s bashful in front of the bright camera lights during interviews, but supportive, outgoing and charismatic in the locker room. On the ice, he’s otherworldly.
“He is extremely funny, extremely positive in the locker room,” teammate Kevin Shattenkirk said. “He’s good for our locker room in the sense that he’s always happy, always fun. He doesn’t like the limelight, he doesn’t like being in front of the camera, in front of the microphone. That’s fine. He’s happy to just sit behind and do what he’s doing on the ice.”
The personality hasn’t changed despite Tarasenko being one of the hottest players in the NHL with eight goals in his last six games. Dating back to last year’s postseason, Tarasenko has 15 goals in his last 21 games.
“He’s still the same old guy,” Shattenkirk said. “He’s always had this confidence on the ice and now it’s starting to work out a little bit more.”
As of Friday afternoon, Tarasenko was fourth in the NHL in points (16), third in goals (9) and fourth in plus/minus rating (+10). Being such a young player, Tarasenko has been somewhat overlooked around the league until this past week when he netted two highlight-reel goals. His first one, which he scored on the big stage in New York City, could be the NHL’s goal of the year.
“I didn’t see much of it, not until he was kind of weaving his way through the entire team,” Shattenkirk said. “Then I saw the finish which was amazing. It was just a phenomenal play and obviously didn’t expect from a drop pass to be getting an assist like that.
“I’ve seen him try that a couple times in practice, but getting through four guys before that is something else.”
The young forward’s most recent goal, which he scored Thursday night against New Jersey, was another case of Tarasenko beating several defenders and then making the goaltender look silly.
“He’s just feeling it,” Shattenkirk said. “He’s creating offensive plays and he’s doing a great job of not forcing it either. He knows when the opportunity is there. He’s playing smart hockey and that’s why he’s been so successful and it’s great to see that on your team.”
Prior to Jaden Schwartz’s second-period goal Thursday, it had been 101 minutes, 32 seconds since a Blue other than Tarasenko had scored. Despite that, the club has won its last seven games, in large part due to Tarasenko’s explosion.
“The guy is as dynamic as anybody,” Blues captain David Backes said. “It’s fun to watch. We need to find ways to support him and get other guys scoring, myself especially.”
The young player’s success has been spread around the league. In the last week, there have been more and more interview requests submitted for Tarasenko, who, in past years has done his best to remain out of the spotlight. That’s no longer an option.
“I’m not comfortable but it is what it is,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I don’t think it really matters to him; he is such a humble kid. I just don’t want to see it take away from the rest of the group but he’s not going to allow that. He’s going to defer all the time.
“If he has points and the team wins, he’s the most unhappy guy in the locker room. He’s all focused on winning and that’s what you appreciate. He’s one of the most popular guys on the team because he supports everybody else and he’s so happy for anybody else’s success.”
Though Tarasenko’s grasp of the English language has improved dramatically from when he joined the club in 2012, it’s still an ongoing process. But the only two words Tarasenko needs are: teammates and win.
“It’s not all about me,” Tarasenko said. “It’s all about the guys, the team.”
Everything Tarasenko does is centered on helping the team. If he scores a goal, he credits a teammate; if he scores three goals and misses on one opportunity, he focuses more on correcting the latter. The budding star is constantly looking to improve. So much so, that one of the first things he does following a game is reach out to his family in Russia.
His dad, Andrei, is a coach in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Andrei used to coach his son. In many ways, he still does when he can.
“It’s tough with my dad because he’s coaching in the KHL,” Tarasenko said. “Sometimes I have a game and he can’t watch the full game but my grandpa (Vladimir) watches every game live from NHL.com.”
The two family members give Tarasenko their takeaways following the game and the young player combines the advice with what the Blues coaching staff is telling him. He knows that he can’t put the skill he possesses ahead of work.
“His tempo is way up,” Hitchcock said. “He is making plays with movement rather than standing still. He’s got some real quickness in his game. He’s lost weight and this is the best condition he’s been in since he started coming here. It’s a good sign.”
But something else that is different from previous seasons is more familiarity in the locker room. Tarasenko has now been a Blue for three years, so he is comfortable in St. Louis. This offseason, the Blues added another familiar face, Jori Lehtera, to the roster, which has been an even bigger help.
Lehtera played with Tarasenko more than a few times in Russia and the two developed some chemistry. They have since developed into the Blues’ most dynamic forward combination this season with already 25 points between them.
“We played together before,” said Lehtera. “I like to play with him; I think everybody likes to play with him because he’s a good player. I know where he is, so it makes my game easier.”
With Tarasenko being camera shy, Lehtera has taken more than his fair share of the interviews since Tarasenko's hot streak began.
“I don’t know why I have to do his interviews and he’s not here,” Lehtera said with a huge smile after Thursday’s win over the Devils.
Tarasenko was told of Lehtera’s humorous jab and after a did-he-really-say-that look, he grinned and responded: “Don’t listen to him.”
What Tarasenko is doing on the ice is headline-worthy. What he’s doing off the ice is being a solid teammate with a humble attitude. It’s why the team loves him and why he will be a Blue for a long time.
“This is a good time,” Tarasenko said. “I just try to enjoy every moment. I just relax and do stuff.”