Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tarasenko chooses St. Louis over KHL

Blues' 2010 first-round pick will sign entry-level contract in July;
turns down reported lucrative deal to stay with SKA St. Petersburg

ST. LOUIS -- 'The Tank' has made his decision. In the end, the Blues prevailed victorious.

After pondering about his immediate and long-term future, the Blues received the news early Saturday morning from Vladimir Tarasenko that had some wondering if the NHL would be placed on the back burner again.

Tarasenko, the team's 2010 first round draft pick (No. 16 overall), who has been playing in the Kontinental Hockey League the last four seasons, has informed the Blues he is coming to the NHL next season and has agreed in principle to a three-year, entry level contract. He is expected to sign his contract on July 1st.
(Getty Images)
Vladimir Tarasenko, the 16th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, has finally
welcomed the Blues and the NHL with open arms.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said that under the current collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire on Sept. 15, no unsigned draft choices are allowed to sign after 5 p.m. (local time) on June 1st through June 30.

Tarasenko, 20, informed Blues general manager Doug Armstrong with a phone call at 6 a.m. this morning. Armstrong, who is in Toronto for the NHL combine, received a call from Tarasenko's Russian-based agent Alexei Dementiev at 1:30 a.m. and was glad to get the news Blues fans have been waiting to hear.

"I did talk to (Tarasenko) this morning," Armstrong said. "It was just a brief conversation telling him I knew it was a difficult decision he had to make both professionally and personally to come over the North America and how excited we were to have him come and how I'm looking forward to working with him over the summer.

"The timing of the call was he was working under some KHL deadlines. He wanted us to know about his decision before he had to announce it in his hometown, which I believe is a 12-hour time change from here. I understood the call. I appreciated it and was very excited to get it."

"We believe he's a top prospect and we're excited to have him come into North America," Armstrong added. "We think he's a player that has done all the things he could do outside of the NHL and we feel he's ready for the next step. We're excited to have that behind us."

In 54 games with Sibir Novosibirsk and SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL last season, Tarasenko tallied 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) along with 10 goals and 16 points in 15 playoff games with St. Petersburg, which was eliminated in the conference finals.

According to Sport-Express, Tarasenko had a two-year contract on the table from St. Petersburg -- which traded for Tarasenko last season -- that would have made the Yaroslavl, Russia native one of the highest paid skaters in the KHL.

"(Tarasenko) decided he had a childhood dream - to play in the National Hockey League," Dementiev told Sport-Express of Russia. "This decision is perhaps the most serious in his life. (It) was very difficult to decide on it. Still, he liked everything in the SKA, it is one of the best clubs in Russia, St. Petersburg -- a wonderful city with great fans and the financial conditions offered are very good."

But Armstrong indicated that Tarasenko will be with the big club and that as long as he earns his spot on a Blues team that finished with 109 points last season, he had the ability to be a top-nine player.

"What I said to Vlad was, 'I view you as a St. Louis Blue. We have a roster spot for you. You're going to be told to get an apartment, you've got to get a place to live,'" Armstrong said. "But at the end of the day, the NHL doesn't give jobs away. He's got to come in and maintain it. We really believe he has the skill-set to do that though or we wouldn't be saying that."

The 6-foot, 202-pound Tarasenko was captain of Russia's gold medal-winning world junior team in 2011, where he tallied four goals and seven assists in seven games. However, he was left off of Russia's world championship squad last month for undetermined reasons. But quietly, there was speculation that Tarasenko's uncertainty to return to the KHL upset national team officials.

The Blues never doubted his ability. Armstrong met with Tarasenko personally in Helsinki, Finland at the World Championships and knew Tarasenko was serious about joining the Blues then after an 11-hour train ride for a two-hour meeting and another ensuing 11-hour train ride back home. However, Armstrong doesn't want expectations on Tarasenko joining the Blues to be too high.

"As an organization, we all want to control unrealistic expectations," Armstrong said. "He's coming into a team that had 109 points, he's coming into a team that had the second-most points in the NHL. We expect him to come over here and compete for a job in our top nine. We think he has that ability, but we're not putting unrealistic expectations on him. He needs to just become a good NHL player.
(Getty Images)
Vladimir Tarasenko, here playing for Russia in 2011 at the World
Championships, has decided to play in the NHL and the Blues for 2012-13.

"He did play well in Buffalo at the world juniors and how well he's played in the KHL, there's going to be expectations for him to produce right away. I think he will have the ability to produce right away, but it's not something that we're going to force-feed or put him in situations where he's not going to be able to be himself."

Tarasenko took his time to decide, and some speculation circulated that the uncertainty of the NHL's CBA would scare Tarasenko away from coming across the Atlantic but that was never the case.

"The uncertainty of the CBA not only affects Vlady but it affects all NHL contracted players," Armstrong said. "Whatever happens with the collective bargaining agreement, the NHL will play at some point. I'm hoping it plays on Sept. 15th and he's ready to go. We didn't talk a lot about it. If there is a work stoppage of any sense, we'll want to make sure that he's still playing."

Armstrong said he'd like to get Tarasenko over here as soon as possible but needs to work that out with Dementiev and former Blues goalie Mike Liut, Tarasenko's North American-based agent.

"I've gone through this stuff in my mind but I haven't talked to Vlady or his agents yet about that," Armstrong said. "That's something over the next week, we'll decide what the timing is. I think getting him here sometime prior to training camp will be beneficial for him, but I have to work with him on that.

"I don't know if it's going to be difficult, but it's going to be something he's going to have to adapt to. That's why hopefully we get him over here in the summer and we can continue to both on and off the ice prepare him. That's going to be beneficial for him. It's like if we were to send a Jaden Schwartz, a Ty Rattie or someone over to play in the KHL. The most natural time they're going to have is the three hours a day at the rink. The other 21 hours is where you have to adapt to the culture. I think it's going to be smooth, but I don't think it's not going to have some growing pains to it. That's why getting in here sooner or later is going to be better for both sides."

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