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Tarasov brings big potential to Blue Jackets goaltending pipeline

Young Russian impressed last season, during time at development camp

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

The last time the Blue Jackets acquired a goaltender from Novokuznetsk, Russia, it's fair to say it worked out pretty well. 

Sergei Bobrovsky went from young backup to superstar in his time in Columbus, earning two Vezina Trophies and starting in net for seven seasons with the Blue Jackets. 

Amazingly enough, one of his potential heir apparents hails from the same city of around 550,000 on the Tom River in southwestern Siberia. 

Daniil Tarasov is a similarly talented young netminder from Novokuznetsk whom the Blue Jackets selected in the third round of the 2017 draft. Though he's following in the footsteps of his father, Vadim, a longtime goalie in Russia, as much as he is Bobrovsky's, Tarasov can confirm that the former Blue Jacket's rise to one of the best goalies on the planet still registers in the hometown the two share. 

"Novokuznetsk likes hockey, and Sergei's success motivated all of those guys to become goaltenders and go play hockey," Tarasov said through an interpreter as he took part in the team's development camp last month. "Hockey is developing at a much faster pace right now in that area because of Sergei." 

If Tarasov turns out to be anything like Bobrovsky on the ice, the Blue Jackets and their fans will be excited. So far, the early returns are good on the massive 6-foot-4 netminder, who has impressed at each stop in his career.  

The 20-year-old came up through the Salavat Yulaev Ufa system in Russia, earning his way all the way up to a pair of KHL appearances this past season. He's also already on the radar of national team scouts, having played with both the Russian Under-18 and U-20 teams, including during last year's IIHF World Junior Championship. 

In addition to taking part in the World Juniors, Tarasov spent most of last season with Toros Neftekamsk of the Supreme Hockey League, the second tier of Russian hockey. At his young age, he posted a 1.71 goals-against average in 25 regular-season games with a .928 save percentage. He was just as good in the postseason, playing in 17 games and posting a 1.87 GAA and .930 save percentage. 

He also played in the Canada/Russia Series last November, an international tournament pitting Canada's best junior players against top Russian juniors. There, he caught the eye of Chris Clark, the newly promoted Blue Jackets director of player personnel who spent last year as a development coach. 

"I got to see him a little bit in the series where he played against the teams in Canada when he was playing for Team Russia, and he was awesome," Clark said. "He's different than some of the goalies we have in our system where they're a little more reactionary. He's very meticulous about his movements and there's not a lot of wasted (movement). It looks like he's thinking the game the whole way. 

"Big guy. He's going to fill the net. For him to come over and just get a taste of this and knowing that he's going to be playing in Finland next year, I think that's going to be a huge step for him." 

As Clark alluded to, the next step for Tarasov will be to take his talents to Finland. Rather than stay in Russia, where the KHL is the second best league in the world but where playing time wouldn't necessarily be assured for the young goalie, Tarasov has signed with Assat in Finland and figures to get the experience he needs as a No. 1.  

It's the same league where Blue Jackets prospect Veini Vehvilainen, a sixth-round pick in 2018, has been the goaltender of the year for the past two seasons. 

"I want to enjoy my time there, I want to learn the country and the way they play hockey," Tarasov said. "I certainly feel like I'm going to learn a lot there and develop more and get myself ready for the NHL." 

Tarasov said he has no plans as to when exactly he'd like to arrive in Columbus, preferring to worry only about getting better rather than when he'll be ready for the NHL. But those who know the talents of the goaltender think the sky is the limit, and Tarasov seems to agree based off an answer he gave when asked how it felt to be drafted by the Blue Jackets two summers ago. 

"It motivated me even more that they had faith in me," he said. "I want to help the team, I want to win, and I want to go all the way to the Stanley Cup." 

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