Without the likes of Dmitry Chesnokov and Alex Seren Rosso the puckhead masses of North America would be far less knowledgeable of NHL castoffs playing in the KHL and Russian prospects. Their insight provides invaluable background and understanding in to the players that may dress in someone’s favorite sweater one day. Sometimes the news is good. In the case of St. Louis Blues and their fans, Tuesday’s reports were of the opposite.
Anticipation has been building in St. Louis for the arrival of the captain of the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship’s U-20 Gold Medal Russia squad since he was selected 16th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The rare blend of size, speed, power, finesse, deft hands, a high work ethic and will to win have the blue bleeding faithful salivating over the potential gamebreaker to be. Comparisons to top 2 picks Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin only fanned the flames.
Such high evaluation is not a fan creation. The front office has the same feelings, although far less gushy, for the one called “Tank”. Former Assistant GM and Amateur Scouting Director Jarmo Kekalainen convinced then GM Larry Pleau (and GM in waiting Doug Armstrong) at the draft to trade their 2009 1st round pick, David Rundblad, to Ottawa to take Tarasenko. A notable shift in personnel philosophy for an ownership era where prospect acquisition had been at a premium. Add in the comments made by Armstrong throughout the the second half of the season pointed to the Blues taking all (legal) means possible to bring Tarasenko over and reading between the lines is very easy to do.
Tarasenko is something special.
Given the organization’s desire and the pro-NHL” comments made by Tarasenko around the draft and subsequently throughout the 2010-11 season, his arrival in St. Louis appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Still, confirmation was needed. Last week Chesnokov reported that the decision would be made after a vacation following the World Championships.
Time was taken. The decision was made to stay close to home for one more year.
However, the outcome was not for trying on the part of the Blues. As Chesnokov tweeted Tuesday morning:
Sibir GM tells SovSport the Blues made an “exclusive offer” to Tarasenko “like no other…guaranteeing he’d play.”
(*For the record, Armstrong has denied this report.)
While there has been an obvious shift in team building under Armstrong’s watch as the Blues transition out of their deep rebuild, such an offer is a 180 degree flip from the standard set with previous highly touted first round picks like Erik Johnson, Alex Pietrangelo and David Perron. Patrik Berglund and Lars Eller were given no such offer, that is known of, to encourage their defection from the SEL. The same can be said of TJ Oshie and Ian Cole from the NCAA ranks. There is really no precedent set for that type of offer
Tarasenko’s importance to the Blues off season plans is now very apparent.
Volva was to be a key acquisition. Representing more than just a number of goals and points added to next season’s projections. He would bring a high talent level to the depth chart. As injuries showed throughout the 10-11 season, the Blues simply do not have enough NHL level skill in their available resources to compete for a playoff position. Tarasenko offered a cost effective option allowing more payroll dollars to be spent on other areas of need. Putting the Blues in a much stronger position to survive the ups and downs of the 82 game marathon at a critical juncture in the franchise’s history.
All worries aside, overreaction is premature and irresponsible. Armstrong likely moves to “Plan B” to address his needs. If any GM in the Blues history has exuded the confidence that he can make a big pitcher of lemonade, Army is that man. What he will do is a discussion for another blog.
No, Tarasenko is not a “bust”. Nor is he “Filatov v2.0″. There is no fault for staying for an additional season with Sibir. He agreed to a two year contract with the club his father coaches. The 11-12 season will fulfill that contract and allow him to walk away with clean hands. As for the heavily rumored out clause, there may have such strict requirements that the best decision was to wait for its expiration.
Concern over Tarasenko’s development is understandable, but founded in stereotypical misconception. He will continue to compete against some of the top talent in the world. He is no worse off in the KHL than he is taking bus tours across North America in the AHL.
Without more contractual details surfacing, there is just no way to discern if Tarasenko wasn’t able to extraicate himself from his contract or if he was “lying” about his dream to play in the NHL.
Chesnokov offers one more nugget of info in a tweet that may shed some light on what may come to pass after next season.
Sibir GM to Sovsport about the Blues’ offer to Tarasenko: “We had no idea the Blues wanted [Tarasenko] to come so bad. But it’d be better for him to play 1 more year in Russia before moving to the NHL.“
Sounds like an expectation of eventual loss for one hockey club and gain for another across the globe.
In other prospect news
Speculation at the conclusion of the regular season pointed to Colorado College forward and the Blues top selection in the 2010 draft, Jaden Schwartz, jumping out of the NCAA ranks and heading up to the WHL. A definitive answer seems to have come Monday morning. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Schwartz confirmed via text to the Gazette Sunday that he will return for his sophomore year.
Speaking of Tarasenko’s club Sibir, they have added another Blues prospect. Finnish playmaker Jori Lehtera.
News of Lehtera’s defection from Lokomotiv to Sibir for the final season of his two year KHL contract came just one day after Tarasenko’s decision delaying announcement. Fueling tinfoil hat conjecture that Lehtera’s acquisition is meant to cover the loss Tarasenko. Tuesday’s announcement has proven such speculation false.
Many in St. Louis wrote off the former SM-liiga scoring champion when he chose Russia over the US. While, potentially hasty in hindsight, there is no information suggesting a change of heart. Unless Lehtera has a “break out” season. There doesn’t appear to be a Ville Leino scenario to play out.
About the Author: Bleeding Blue from the IL side of the Mississippi, I've been a Blues fan since I can remember seeing the Blues take on the Oilers at the Arena when I was about 5. All I remember is that Brett Hull scored and I was hooked. Now I cheer on the likes of David Backes and TJ Oshie. It's a great time to be a Blues fan as this team rebuilds itself.