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Top prospect Tarasenko agrees to join the Blues

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- Vladimir Tarasenko, the team's 2010 first-round Draft pick (No. 16), is coming to the National Hockey League next season and has agreed in principle to a three-year, entry-level contract. He is expected to sign his contract July 1.

Tarasenko's early morning notification to the Blues of his decision ends a long period of uncertainty about the future of one of the franchise's most talented prospects.

Tarasenko, 20, informed Blues general manager Doug Armstrong with a phone call at 7 a.m. ET this morning. Armstrong, who is in Toronto for the NHL combine, received a call from Tarasenko's Russian-based agent Alexei Dementiev at 2:30 a.m. ET 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. 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 Kontinental Hockey League this past 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.

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.

The Blues have 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 to be too high on Tarasenko joining the Blues.

"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.

"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."

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.

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