Vladimir Tarasenko hasn't played a regular-season game since injuring his shoulder on Oct. 24, 2019 against the Los Angeles Kings, but that will change on Saturday night.
Tarasenko, who has had three shoulder surgeries since April 2018, was activated from injured reserve and is cleared for takeoff.
"It was a long period without playing hockey, but most important, we needed to get it fixed and get it done and get it healthy again," Tarasenko told stlouisblues.com. "The doctors in Vail, Colorado did a great job, the Blues doctors did a great job, everybody was on the same page. We worked a lot and I'm finally able to play… The three surgeries is in the past, there is some speculation still, but it was a different injury, not the same injury three times. Now it's healthy, I feel strong and ready to come back and can't wait until I step on the ice."
Tarasenko returned from his second shoulder surgery in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, playing in one exhibition game in the bubble before making four playoff appearances. He didn't register a point in any of those games - a clear sign that something wasn't right with his surgically-repaired shoulder.
After Game 2 of the Blues' first-round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks last season, Tarasenko returned home and was scheduled for a third shoulder surgery in late August. The estimated time to recover was about five months.
Just over a month ago, Tarasenko began to skate again, and for the last several weeks, has been on the ice with his teammates daily as he geared up for his return. Blues coaches say they've been impressed with his conditioning. He hasn't shied away from the physicality in practice, either, taking plenty of bumps and even initiating contact with his teammates on his own.
Video: Tarasenko feels shoulder is healthy, strong
"The training he's done, and the strength that he has in his shoulder, we wouldn't put him out there if we didn't think he could perform," Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said late last week. "Our team has changed a lot since he last played, but what would we like to see? We would like to see him score from distance, (be an) 18- to 21-minute player, have the other team on their heels, a generational scorer. We're hoping he gets back and he's the old Vladi."
The "old Vladi" is a five-time 30-goal scorer, a three-time NHL All-Star and ranks fifth all-time in Blues history in goals (214) and game-winning goals (35).
Since 2013, Tarasenko ranks 13th in the League with 214 goals.
"I think as an organization and as a team, we're ready for him to come back," Brayden Schenn said. "We know what he can bring to our lineup, he can really put us to that next level… He's able to change a game with a flick of the wrist. He has one of the best shots in the game, and we're looking forward to having him back. We know it's going to take time (to get up to speed), he hasn't played a whole lot hockey in the past year... At the same time, he's an elite talent and I don't think it will take him too long to find his game."
As for his personal expectations, Tarasenko is putting the team first.
"Everybody says this, but if you look at the standings, there is a pretty tight playoff picture," Tarasenko said. "We just have to win games, just have to play good. I'd never think I could miss so much time and have a slow start. I will play as best as I can right away. I have a lot of positive emotions coming back, so I hope I can help the team and score some goals."
Considering what he's been though, Tarasenko and his family back home - wife, Yana, and kids, Mark, Sasha and Artem - are happy to see him back on the ice.
"It's hard when you're not playing, just being in the locker room all the time seeing guys preparing for games and not able to attend those," Tarasenko said. "When you're a healthy scratch or injured, you have to come in with a smile and enjoy every day.
"With the virus thing and the injury, I've had a lot of time to rethink my life," he added. "And I think we're lucky to have what we have right now. No point to be upset, right?"
Certainly not, Vladi. There's nothing to be upset about when you're back on the ice.