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With new deal, Tarasenko excited to remain with Blues

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- When Doug Armstrong recently spoke with right wing Vladimir Tarasenko about the St. Louis Blues and their future, the general manager heard more than enough from a budding star with a humble and unselfish vision to make a long, lucrative commitment.

Tarasenko, who signed the richest contract in Blues history at eight years and $60 million on Tuesday, never brought up term, never brought up dollar figures, never brought up the words "I" or "me" in the conversations, which included agent Mike Liut. The 23-year-old, who led the Blues in goals (37) and points (73) last season, has one sole purpose.

"First of all, I want to say thank you to Tom Stillman, Doug Armstrong and all of the Blues organization to trust me a lot in giving me this contract," Tarasenko said Wednesday. "For us, this is a great opportunity to be better and win multiple times (the) Stanley Cup. When you have family, this is important for you that you know you can stay in the same place and if your family loves this place and if I love this place, there's no other options.

"We talk with Doug a lot about it and my role on the team. I like everything that he told me and he told to my agent. I talked with my family, I talked with my wife and we make a good decision together."

When Armstrong presented the term and dollars to Tarasenko, it was obviously clear the Blues want Tarasenko, along with the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, who signed a seven-year, $45.5 million contract, as faces of their franchise.

"His main focus in our conversations were, 'What are we going to do to win the Stanley Cup?'" Armstrong said. "He never broached the economics with me; he just wanted the assurance that we were going to push and prod and do what we had to do to get better.

"One of the things I've noticed with Vlad since he's been here is this thirst to win outweighs everything else. He's a competitor. Obviously we know he loves to score goals, but he does think of the team above that. I think it's a testament to why he plays the game. ... We're investing in the person as much as we are the player, and I'm very comfortable in the person that he's going to give us everything that he has."

Tarasenko, who recently got married in Russia, has become a likable teammate and figure in St. Louis since his arrival three years ago. From a shy, boyish 20-year-old who was learning a new country and culture to a rising star in the NHL, his humble attitude regarding his play and numbers is what has made a lasting impression on his teammates.

"His first year, especially it being a shortened season, it was really just him feeling out the game, feeling out the lifestyle," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, one of the players along with former teammate Chris Stewart who took Tarasenko under his wing. "Obviously it's a huge, huge change coming over from Russia and having to adapt to the way of life in America. His second year, we saw him a little more comfortable and saw what he can do and then I think this (past) year, he felt like St. Louis was his home. He mentioned that a couple times during the year that he felt this was a great home away from home. He really enjoys living in St. Louis. For any player, once you start to get that comfortability factor, it just makes everything in life a lot easier. He obviously has a great relationship now with his wife Jana, and I think all these things start to add up to becoming a better hockey player. There's less stress in his life and it obviously showed in his game last year."

Tarasenko, who has 66 goals and 139 points in 179 games over three NHL seasons, had the opportunity to return to the Kontinental Hockey League, where he once played with Sibir Novosibirsk and SKA St. Petersburg with former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk. There's obviously pressure within Russia to remain there and lucrative dollars thrown at players to tempt them. Tarasenko never gave the Blues any doubt about his objective.

"Yeah, for sure, our main goal was to sign the deal with the Blues," Tarasenko said. "Again, we love this city, we love this team, we love this organization. When other teams ask you about the contract, it means you play good, other teams want you. But right now, it doesn't matter. We're staying with the Blues. It's not really important right now.

"This is going to be my year number eight in pro hockey. In these eight years, I have a lot of stuff happen with me and I have a lot of situations. I work all my life to make this deal. I'm not stupid to just stop working and stop improving myself. That's how my parents, my father and my grandfather tell me when I was young, 'You need to be better every time. Doesn't matter how many goals you score, you need to score more every year.' There's no other way I'm going to stop doing what I did before and we still don't have a Cup. All what I'm thinking about, all what I'm dreaming about has been the Cup."

It's why Armstrong didn't have any issues committing to Tarasenko through at least 2023.

"I believe that Vladi showed us things last year things that we hadn't seen and talking to other (general) managers about our team and what they say, they enjoy watching us play (but) they enjoy watching Vladi play," Armstrong said. "They turn on the Blues to see what he's going to do. When you look at his playoff performance, you're just scratching the surface of how good he can be. I think coming back now, he understands the pressure he's under now. When you sign this magnitude of a contract, there comes a whole host of other issues that you have to deal with. That's expectations and responsibilities to the city and the organization and franchise. He's fully vested in that. That's the exciting part."

After a celebration of his marriage, Tarasenko and his family will return to St. Louis in August to begin his on-ice quest, one he won't rest on until it's accomplished at least once, or in his words, "Cups." The Blues lost to the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference First Round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We lost three years in a row with the same style. It was tough years for us," Tarasenko said. "We just need to break it. We need the whole group of guys. We need to stay all together, all 25-26 guys together.

"I think the main part for me, we need to have one goal. So it's not about points, it's not about the goals, it's not about whatever. It's all about the Cup. If 26 guys dreaming about same thing, I think we can make it."

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