ST. LOUIS - When Vladimir Tarasenko left Russia's KHL and joined the Blues during the 2012-13 season, he gave the Blues information on a player who had the makings of a star.
The Blues absorbed the report but didn’t act on it quick enough. Now, their division rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks are in possession of Artemi Panarin and he’s a weapon that could inflict serious wounds.
“He told us the day he got here about Panarin,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “He told us, at least once a month about him. They are best buds, they played together in the World Juniors and played on lines together. He talked about him and everybody looked and said he’s a pretty small guy. We all look a little dumb right now.
“I think instead of giving him $8 million, we should have hired him as a scout.”
Panarin, who is a more than a month older than Tarasenko, just finished off a 77-point rookie season. He signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Chicago this past offseason, choosing the Blackhawks over the other dozen or so interested teams.
The year Tarasenko came to St. Louis, Panarin posted a mediocre 11 goals, 18 points in the KHL. It’s hard to fault the Blues for overlooking the forward. But as one of Panarin’s closest friends, Tarasenko knew there was potential. He was right.
Over the next two years, Panarin exploded for 46 goals and 102 points in 105 games.
“Yeah, I know one day he’s going to try, and he decided to come a little bit later than us and had success now,” said Tarasenko. “All the guys who played with him, everybody’s happy for him.”
Tarasenko, who had a pretty dominant regular season himself, posting his first 40-goal season, said he and Panarin had similar transitions because of each club’s establishment.
“It depends on what kind of team you have,” said Tarasenko. “When I came here, the guys helped me a lot and it was really easy for me. Probably looks like it’s really easy for him, too. I’ll wait for him now to learn a little English.”
Tarasenko would have enjoyed playing alongside his buddy in the NHL, but he’s having just as much fun playing against him on the big stage.
“If they ask me do you want to play with him, I said yes, but Chicago signed him,” said Tarasenko. "But he’s the enemy right now. I know him as a player for a long time. I think that’s how he can play every year. I can’t be happy for a Blackhawks guy, but I’m happy for him as a friend.”
Off the ice, the two speak regularly. They even made sure to get a picture together before the series began. Once the puck drops, though, the friendship disappears.
“It’s pretty fun to play against a guy you played with a long time ago. We are really close friends in life. But no friends in hockey.”