Don't Panic, Blues Fans

"Hello, dear fans ... I made a decision to stay with Sibir next year…  I will try to bring you joy with my game. Thanks to all who supported me."

These are the words of Blues Russian prospect Vladimir Tarasenko, spoken sometime earlier this week.  HC Sibir, Tarasenko’s current team in the KHL, posted a video on the front page of their website that featured Tarasenko telling his fans that he would return for the 2011-12 season.  The video was posted in Russian and was translated by Yahoo hockey reporter Dmitry Chesnokov.

What does this spell for Blues fans?  No Tarasenko for at least one more season.

Fire and brimstone, right?  Time to raid Russia and take what is rightfully ours.  Tarasenko is a liar to the St. Louis people!

Don’t jump to those conclusions yet.  Tarasenko, the Blues’ 16th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, is still under contract for the coming season.  He has every right to stay in Russia and play out his contract.

 

It was originally believed that Tarasenko would terminate the last year of his contract to leave for the NHL, but things change.

 

“At the end of the day, (Tarasenko) feels that it's best for his development to spend one more season in the KHL, and we certainly support that decision,” said Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong. “At that age, 19, I'm sure he had to take a look at all the different options he had. Obviously he felt that playing in the KHL, and staying in an environment he was comfortable with, will increase his development and make him a better player in North America when he gets here.”

But don’t worry Blues fans, Tarasenko will not be eligible to re-enter the draft after this season either.  Currently, the NHL has a rule in place that states that if a European draftee is not signed within two years of being drafted, he will be eligible to re-enter the draft.  As reported by Jeremy Rutherford of STLToday.com, the rule does not apply to Tarasenko.  The NHL does not have any sort of agreement with the KHL.

So where does that leave the Blues for next season?

It’s not a secret that the Blues desperately want Tarasenko in their lineup.  The 19 year old has slick hands and size to boot.  After a few seasons of NHL experience, Tarasenko is expected to be a top-line contributor for the Blues.

That is just the point though; after a few years of experience Tarasenko will be a dynamic NHLer.  Rookie forwards rarely jump into the NHL and make an immediate impact.  Last year’s rookie scoring leader was Jeff Skinner of Carolina with 63 points, while it was Matt Duchene in 2009-10 with 55 points.  These are the extreme cases; most top-end rookie forwards produce between 30-50 points.  That is hardly making a vast impact on an NHL club.

The way to take Russian players nowadays is to not expect them to play for your club… ever.  That is why the Blues traded a falling prospect (David Rundblad, originally selected 17th overall by St. Louis in 2009) for a chance at Tarasenko.  With all of the negativity associated with European players playing in the KHL instead of the NHL (Jiri Hudler in 2009-10 with Detroit and Alexander Radulov in 2008-09, which is still an ongoing discussion in Nashville today), drafting Russians is not as accepted as it once was.  NHL GMs and scouts know that taking a Russian in the draft is sort of a gamble; he may never leave his home country.

It is fair to say that Armstrong was ready for this news.  In fact, in a way, he had to be expecting it.

Armstrong wanted Tarasenko to battle for a spot in the lineup but that spot will be going to someone else.  It’s that simple.

"Obviously it's going to create some more opportunities for some other players," Armstrong told Rutherford. "It's a space that we thought he might compete for. So now do we look to fill that spot via trade? Do we look at filling that spot via free agency or internal competition? The positive is that we have the information [on Tarasenko] now and we can move forward and look to see how we can make our team better."

Chances are that Armstrong is banking on David Perron finally recovering from a concussion he received early last season.  It was released that Perron is feeling better at the moment, but he is still not taking his baseline tests to begin summer training.

Perron has made strides towards returning.  That is the only silver lining that comes in his predicament.

Armstrong is also counting on current Blues to add more goals, much as they did this season.  Matt D’Agostini had a very impressive season, posting a career-high in goals (21).  Patrik Berglund rebounded from a rough sophomore season, scoring his career-high in goals (22).  The list goes on for players who exceeded expectations offensively; this will need to continue through next season.

While it is disappointing that Tarasenko will not be in a Blues jersey next season, it will be interesting to see how Armstrong fills out this young roster and prepares it for the Russian’s possible NHL entrance in 2012-13.

Tarasenko gets to dazzle KHL fans for one more season; let’s hope it is the last.

 

You can read Jeremy Rutherford’s column at STLToday.com

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