2010 No. 1 pick decides to play in KHL at least one more season
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues were having exit meetings and Doug Armstrong was having his "exit" interview with the media in mid-April, the Blues' general manager was asked if he'd like to have 2010 No. 1 pick Vladimir Tarasenko here as soon as possible.
"We'd love to get him signed, we'd love to get him over here," Armstrong said at the time.
Well, that time apparently isn't now or any time this year.
It looks like the Blues will have to wait at least one more year, as it was confirmed today by Armstrong that Tarasenko, the No. 16 overall pick in last summer's NHL Entry Draft, has decided to play one more season in the KHL.
Tarasenko, who is vacationing after playing for Russia at the IIHF World Championships earlier this month, will play a fourth season with Sibir Novosibirsk after making a short, to-the-point internet announcement on Sibir's team website this morning. It was first reported by Allesandro Seren Rosso of russianprospects.com.
"Dear Sibir's fans," Tarasenko declared in the video. "I decided to spend a further year with the club. I hope to please you with my play. Thank you for the support."
Armstrong spoke with former Blues netminder and Tarasenko's agent Mike Liut before confirming the end result. He would not say what kind of offer was made.
"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," Armstrong said. "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."
There's growing concerns among Blues fans that the team could lose Tarasenko, as NHL teams normally have two years to sign European and/or junior players from the time they're drafted. But since Russia is not part of the International Ice Hockey Association transfer agreement, there is no deadline on signing Tarasenko.
Reports coming out of Russia are that Sibir is prepared to offer Tarasenko a two-year extension. He still has one year remaining on his current contract. But Armstrong was unaware of an impending new deal.
Sibir general manager Kirill Fastovsky told SovSport.ru that the Blues made an "exclusive offer" to Tarasenko, "like no other ... guaranteeing he'd play (in the NHL)," per Yahoo hockey writer Dmitry Chesnokov.
Armstrong was not so forthcoming on that guarantee.
"You can't guarantee anyone anything coming into the NHL," the Blues' GM said. "I think my philosophy is you can't guarantee something you can't fulfill ... it's just going to put a strain on the relationship.
"He was told that there was a great opportunity here, that his game would transcend to the NHL quickly. But we were crystal clear that he has to come and earn that job. Ultimately, he had to come and earn the job. We weren't just going to give them away. You have to earn your spot in the NHL."
There is a growing sentiment that the reason many European players balk at moves to North America immediately/if at all is that the player fears being moved to play in the American Hockey League. Players want that guarantee that they'll play in the NHL.
"When I did talk to (Tarasenko in recent months), I did tell him that I thought there was a very good opportunity for him to come and compete for a spot in St. Louis," Armstrong said. "With our roster, there are jobs to be had."
Those jobs will be filled by players on the current roster and possibly players that could be brought in through free agency and/or trade.
"Obviously it's going to create some more opportunities for some other players," Armstrong said. "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."
In three seasons with Sibir, the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Tarasenko tallied 29 goals and 23 assists in 122 games, including nine goals and 19 points in 42 games this past season.
Tarasenko, a co-captain, also had four goals and 11 points in seven games while leading Russia to the World Junior Championship in January.