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Tarasenko not satisfied entering season with Blues

Right wing seeks defensive improvement, revamps workouts, diet

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

If Vladimir Tarasenko's focus were on statistics, there would be plenty for the St. Louis Blues right wing to be happy about.

Last season, he was tied with Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand for fourth in the NHL with 39 goals and finished 10th in the League in points with 75. That came after he had 74 points (40 goals, 34 assists, tied for 12th) in 2015-16 and 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists, tied for 10th) in 2014-15.

Despite that consistency in his production, Tarasenko is far from satisfied as he prepares to begin his sixth NHL season. 


[RELATED: St. Louis Blues season preview]


"No, I'm not happy with my last three years," Tarasenko said leading up to training camp. "Yes, they're good stats, but not enough for me. Because if you don't want to be the best, there's no reason to play. So that's what I will try to do. That's why I worked different [this offseason]. There's still one goal for us."

That goal, of course, is to win the Stanley Cup. The Blues came within two wins of reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2015-16 but took a step back last season. They were struggling at 24-21-5 and in fourth place in the Central Division with 53 points before coach Ken Hitchcock was replaced by Mike Yeo on Feb. 1.

Video: Vladimir Tarasenko comes in at No. 14 on the list

Though the Blues surged after that to finish in third place in the division (46-29-7, 99 points) and upset the second-place Minnesota Wild in five games in the Western Conference First Round, they were eliminated in six games by the Nashville Predators in the second round. 

That also wasn't good enough for Tarasenko.

"We had a bad experience last year in the playoffs," said the 25-year-old native of Yaroslavl, Russia. "It wasn't that bad, but we didn't win. So we had tough lessons and we are ready to go this year."

Tarasenko is as ready physically as he's ever been. He changed his workout routine and diet in the offseason in an effort to get slimmer and quicker.

"I tried to do less weights and tried to do more stuff for balance and stabilizing stuff," he said. "You need to eat the right food and follow the right practice program and I feel better now."

Video: STL@PIT: Tarasenko knots game with quick wrister

The results are apparent from looking at Tarasenko, who is noticeably thinner. Tarasenko acknowledged he lost weight but would not reveal how much. He was listed at 219 pounds last season.

Yeo said last week he did not know how many pounds Tarasenko lost, but that the commitment he made in the offseason was significant.

"I think that's just part of his maturity and growth as a player," Yeo said. "He's talked to us about his desire to grow his leadership and we've seen that from him. In the last year, he's really stepped that up. It means a lot to him to be considered a good leader. He wants to take this team to another level and he knows that he has to lead first and get the rest of the group to follow along. So he had a good summer and I'm expecting a good season from him."

Becoming a better leader is important to Tarasenko, who was an alternate captain last season. He's worked hard on improving in the defensive zone to become a more complete player. When discussing his individual goals for this season, that comes first on his list.

"It's just getting more responsibilities with your own end," he said. "It's not only being a good player or scoring a lot a goals. You need to be a leader on the ice and off the ice, too. So the goals are the same. I haven't reached it yet, so I will try now."

Video: Tarasenko on his upcoming season with the Blues

Yeo said Tarasenko has improved in the defensive zone to the point that he trusts him in any situation. That also is a sign of his maturation.

"He's a guy that at the end of [last season] we would have no problem putting him out when the [opponent's] goalie is pulled," Yeo said. "He's a guy that wants to make a difference in the game and he does it defensively as well as offensively. That's what you're asking for from your leaders. You want them to find a way to have an impact on the game and make a difference. 

"Winning is very important to him right now. When he was young, I think he wanted to make his mark in the game and show that he can score goals and be a dominant player that way and I think his game is becoming more well-rounded and his leadership has taken another step."

Tarasenko said the Blues are committed to finally getting over the hump and winning the Stanley Cup. He's determined to play a part in leading them there. 

"We are hungry guys for wins," he said. "It will be pretty interesting. I'm ready for the season. We have really high expectations and we all know what's the final point and the goal why we play hockey. Everyone on the team will try to reach this goal this year."

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