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|7 сентября 2012 года. |
Tarasenko's arrival half the battle; Young Russian forward now must establish himself in the NHL // St. Louis Post - Dispatch
Most of Vladimir Tarasenko's words at Thursday's news conference, making official his arrival to the Blues, were expressed through an interpreter. But when it was over, the Russian forward stood and said in English, "I feel my dream comes true."
Perhaps few can accurately say when the NHL season will actually start, as labor negotiations have stalled and the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, Sept. 15, is coming quickly. But when the puck drops, Tarasenko will be wearing the No. 91 Blues jersey that he tugged over his head Thursday.
For all of the worrying about when the right winger would come to that conclusion, he ended it with one confident proclamation.
"I am ready to play in the best league in the world," said Tarasenko, 20, who spent the past four seasons playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
Blues fans weren't the only ones, however, wondering when Tarasenko would arrive. Even the club, which drafted Tarasenko No. 16 overall in the 2010 NHL draft, was left to speculate.
"He was rated in the top two or three in that draft class skill-wise, but there was, as we call it in the hockey world, the 'Russian factor' ... is he going to come? Will he come?" Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Thursday. "When we met him, he said all of the right things, but everyone usually says the right things.
"But I felt very comfortable in talking to him that the NHL was where he wanted to play. And he was true to his word, that he would come when he felt he was ready and he feels that he is ready now. But there's always a little apprehension when you're dealing with the unknown."
For the last two years, Tarasenko's intentions weren't the only unknown. Unless you were the Blues' management staff, which traveled overseas to watch him play, only those who saw scattered highlights on the Internet were vaguely familiar with his ability, style and potential.
Even Tarasenko's new teammates were even unsure what to expect until he arrived at the Blues' summer practice session Tuesday. Although the drills were limited that day, Blues winger Andy McDonald saw the potential in the frame of the 6-foot, 215-pound Tarasenko.
"He's good sized," McDonald said. "He's pretty stocky and obviously that's a big factor in the NHL. You've got to be strong on your skates and you've also got to be fast. He's fast and he's big, so he's probably a complete package."
Tarasenko, who has a lefthanded shot but prefers to play right wing, was asked Thursday what he felt was his No. 1 asset.
"I can score," he said through an interpreter. "I get excited about scoring, but my main ambition is to help the team, whatever it is that I do."
The word has also been spread that Tarasenko likes to play physical. But on Thursday, Armstrong clarified, saying: "As you can see, he's got a hockey body, he's got big hips and strong legs and very good puck-possession skills. He can drive the puck to the net. So I think his physical play comes from his strength and his desire to get to the hard areas more than you would say running players over. He's a physically strong offensive player, probably like a (T.J.) Oshie or maybe a David Backes ... in the sense that they know where they want to get to and they're looking to go from A to B and not sidestep it."
Tarasenko scored 52 goals and had 100 points in 176 games in the KHL, but he isn't setting expectations for his first season in the NHL. He said that his goal was "to prove to myself that I am capable of playing with the best players in the world."
Armstrong said that Tarasenko would fit into the Blues' top-nine group of forwards.
"We think he's NHL ready now," Armstrong said. "There's NHL ready and then being a dominant player in the NHL and that's what we're going to have to find out where he's at. We wouldn't have signed him if we didn't think he could come over here and play and help our team right away, and he believes that too."
Tarasenko may be NHL ready, but will the NHL be ready to start on time? In the event of a lockout, the Russian will have two options - play with the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria or return to the KHL until the lockout is over.
"It has not been decided yet," Tarasenko said through interpreter. "I am going to speak to Doug Armstrong about that and on Sept. 15, we will make the decision that would be the best for me."
Armstrong believes there's a benefit to both.
"There's the advantage of staying in North America: playing with some of the players that he might play with (the Blues), getting to understand the North American culture off the ice and also playing on the smaller ice (surface)," Armstrong said. "But then going home, he's developed over there, he's become a very good player over there. I think it's going to be a win-win, and whatever we jointly decide is best for him is the (way) we'll go."
In the meantime, Tarasenko's transition to North America is now under way. He said that between a new brand of hockey and a new brand of life, "at the beginning, both will be equally challenging."
But he's ready. On Thursday, Tarasenko started by clarifying his preferred nickname. Some have referred to him as "The Tank," but he indicated that was new to him.
"Never in Russia," Tarasenko said. "All the players and the people, the fans, call me 'Vova' and 'Vladi.' I hear 'Tank' here first time. Vladi is better."
As Tarasenko left the interview room, Armstrong leaned toward him and said, "See, that was easy!"
Tarasenko nodded. But on the day that he realized his dream had come true, he also realized that now comes the hard part.