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Tarasenko Ready for Next Challenge

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

HAZELWOOD - Vladimir Tarasenko was all smiles as he was introduced to the St. Louis media on Thursday at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Mills.

And as Darren Pang would say: why wouldn’t he be?

The 20-year-old Russian prospect arrived in St. Louis last Friday and has spent time getting adjusted to a new town. He began skating informally with some of his new teammates on Tuesday and already appears to be fitting in.

He certainly looked good in blue as he was presented with a Blues jersey bearing his No. 91 at Thursday's press conference.

“I’m very excited to be here in St. Louis playing for the St. Louis Blues, and I’m happy to help the team win the Stanley Cup this year," Tarasenko said through his interpreter, Irina Sandler. "I am ready to play for the best league in the world.”

The Blues originally drafted Tarasenko in the first round (16th overall) in 2010. According to NHL Central Scouting, the 6-foot, 215-pound right-winger was the No. 2 ranked European skater and was projected by some draft experts to be a Top-5 pick. But the Kontinental Hockey League has displayed an ability to keep Russian forwards at home by giving them sizable contracts, making scouts skeptical of drafting Russian prospects.

When GM Doug Armstrong traded defensive prospect David Rundblad to Ottawa in exchange for their 16th overall pick, the Blues were happy to find that Tarasenko was still available.

The talented right-winger has played in the KHL since the 2008-09 season, scoring 52 goals and 48 assists (100 points) in 176 games. In 2010, as captain of Russia’s World Junior Championship team, he helped his team overcome a 3-0 deficit in the Gold Medal game by scoring the game-tying goal.

Russia eventually beat Canada in overtime to claim the Gold Medal.

Without a doubt, the Blues are getting an experienced player. As one of the top goal scorers available in the 2010 Draft class, Tarasenko could be a major component of the Blues’ offense as soon as this season. But Armstrong wants fans to temper their expectations.

“We think his skill set and style of play is tailor-made for our League," Armstrong said. "We think he has a chance to be a good player on a very good team. Because of the great work the players did last year, winning the division and getting 109 points, we’re just looking for another complement player to come in here and play.

"There’s no pressure on Vladi to be something that he can’t be. We’re going to allow him to develop on his own time and come along at his own pace. When we signed him (in June), we believed he was NHL-ready. Now it’s up to him to come and prove that.”

Added Tarasenko, "My ambition is to do the best I can to help the team and also to prove to myself that I'm capable of playing with the best players in the world.”

Press PLAY below to watch Vladimir Tarasenko's creative breakaway shot at the KHL All-Star Game earlier this year.

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