LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: Vladimir Tarasenko, drafted 16th overall by the St. Louis Blues, poses for a portrait during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
If you're not a fan of the St. Louis Blues, or if you're not a hockey fan that pours over each and every NHL roster, you might not have heard of Vladimir Tarasenko until after he scored two beautiful goals in his first NHL game. In fact, if you weren't able to catch up on your NHL highlights, you still might be in the dark about this talented young Russian.
I'll summarize what you might have missed - This is one NHL rookie you need to watch, regardless of your team affiliation.
The Vladimir Tarasenko hype has been growing in the St. Louis area ever since the team drafted him 16th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. At that time, Tarasenko had been skating in the KHL with HC Sibir, a team he originally made his KHL debut for in 2008. He played with them for three seasons before being traded to SKA St. Petersburg in 2012. Fans of Tarasenko saw him develop into a lethal talent in the KHL, one capable of providing offense where seemingly no offense exists.
Don't take my word for it. Check out one of Tarasenko's many, many KHL highlight videos below.
Like almost any draft pick, Tarasenko was a risky one. Some NHL fans like to point to the "Russian factor", which usually means Russian picks won't work hard for you and that they generally don't pan out. They'll disappoint you and leave you wishing you could have your draft pick back. The Blues ignored that theory and went ahead with their pick, confident they knew what they'd be getting in the young Russian.
The only major worry - and it was a legitimate one - was that Tarasenko might elect to stay and play in the KHL. Fears mounted once Tarasenko joined SKA as the team had the resources to make Tarasenko a large offer the Blues simply wouldn't be able to match. These fears subsided when Tarasenko announced in June of 2012 that he would be leaving Russia to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL and the matter was put to bed when he officially signed a 3-year, $2.7 million contract with the Blues.
However, once the lockout started, it was unclear if Tarasenko would be convinced to abandon the Blues in favor of more money and the chance to remain in his home country. Again, Tarasenko turned his back on the KHL, honoring his contract and setting off to start his NHL career shortly after the lockout ended.
That brings us up to Tarasenko's NHL debut on Saturday, January 19th.
I'll let the videos do the talking.
First NHL shot, first NHL goal. Sure, you can criticize the Detroit defense on this one (where were they?) but give the rookie credit for tallying his first NHL goal on a nifty break that included a leg fake and a hard shot past a defenseless Jimmy Howard.
Tarasenko wasn't done and apparently he saved his best for last.
Wow. Kyle Quincey should probably go hang his head in shame after that one. Tarasenko cut by him as if he wasn't even there and then again made Jimmy Howard look helpless with a sharp cut right in front of the crease. Tarasenko's first goal was terrific but his second goal was simply outstanding.
The two videos above are just a small sample of what Tarasenko is capable of. No one is really sure what he'll be able to accomplish at the NHL level, but it's safe to say he got the hockey world buzzing with his debut. With Tarasenko bolstering an offense that already had numerous young weapons, the Blues are one of the favorites to hoist the Cup in 2013.
What magic will Tarasenko show off next? Tune in so you don't miss out. This is one NHL rookie that could captivate the NHL for years to come and you won't want to miss it.
Speaking of magic tricks, check out Tarasenko's effort from the KHL All-Star Game in 2012.
Photo courtesy of B26 Photography