Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tarasenko practices with teammates for the first time

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: September 4th, 2012| Contact  |

After arriving in St. Louis on Friday, Blues' prospect Vladimir Tarasenko wasted little time in getting to know his teammates. He joined eight of them in an informal skate on Tuesday. The eight included: defensemen Kris Russell, Barret Jackman, and Ian Cole along with forwards David Backes, Andy McDonald, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol and Patrik Berglund. It was only an informal skate, but the fans packed the stands at the Mills to get a first look at the man nicknamed 'The Tank.'

“It’s Awesome, said Langenbrunner.  “It shows the support we have here as well as the knowledge the fans have with a new guy coming in and they came to show him that love. It’s pretty neat.”

It was the first time teammates and fans were able to see the 6-foot, 215-pound Russian player on the ice. Reactions were the same among his teammates, they liked what they saw, and think he has what it takes to be an NHL player.

"He looked strong, said Blues' center Patrick Berglund. "His conditioning out there looked good and we are glad to have him."

“He’s good size, he’s pretty stocky and that is a big factor in the NHL", said McDonald. “You have to be strong on your skates. You have to be fast. He is fast and he’s big so he is probably the complete package.”

Tarasenko elected to join the Blues this season after spending his last four seasons in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. He turned down more money, and familiarity to play in the NHL, something the Blues weren't sure would happen when they traded up in the 2010 draft to have the opportunity to draft the Russian-born player. They understood the risks that come with drafting Russian players, many of whom never come to North America, but the decision worked out brilliantly as the Blues now have a top prospect who is committed to their organization, and is ready to contribute.

“The transition part for him is going to be tough. He is coming into a new league with a new system and new teammates", said McDonald. "We have to make sure we help him and he speaks up when he doesn't understand. It’s exciting to have him here; obviously there were a lot of fans here to see him. We had three or four last week so obviously he has a huge impact and we want to make things as easy as possible for him.”

Added Patrik Berglund:

"That was the toughest part. Everything is new, it's bigger, fancier. It is a huge difference but it's just fun. You want to be here and you're excited. Everyone just wants to do their best and just enjoy the moment."

Part of the transitioning process is learning a new language, something that will take some time. 

"Most players have great instincts and you just go with the flow of the game and read off of each other, said McDonald. "For him it will be learning the systems the practices, being able to follow the coaches and being able to communicate with his teammates. That's a big factor. Once the game gets going, he's played for so long that it won't be a problem it will just be the communication away from the games."

Tarasenko is coming off of the most productive season thus far in his early career. He accumulated 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) in 54 games between two KHL teams last year.  Tarasenko has a quick release on his shot which makes it that much more deadly, but his ability to be in the right place at the right time is what makes him so good. 

“A guy that could maybe put up 40 or 50 points maybe. He has that kind of skill-set", said defenseman Ian Cole. "Having a guy like that, what’s the downfall of that? I don’t know enough about him defensively or his two-way game, but as far as his pure skill-set, you see it in the world championships and it’s unbelievable.”

The Blues will get to see more of Tarasenko in the coming days. The next scheduled informal skate is on Thursday at the Mills where Tarasenko is expected to speak to the St. Louis media for the first time since his arrival.

It will take a while for Tarasenko to get used to everything that the Blues are about, and will take longer than normal since he has to get accustomed to the new language, but he is surrounded by guys that are ready to take him under their wing and prepare him for the NHL.

“You want him to feel comfortable”, said Langenbrunner. “It’s a locker room that is very good at that. It will take time, we have to learn what he is about and he has to learn what we are about.”