2010 first-round pick would play in St. Louis
next season if he chooses to come to the NHL
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As the window closes regarding his intentions for next season, the question by the day is what will Vladimir Tarasenko choose to do?
That's what all interested parties involved would like to know. And fairly soon.
Will Tarasenko, the 16th overall pick in 2010 finally make the trek to North America and play in the National Hockey League, or does he remain in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League?
While the KHL can match the riches of the NHL in monetary figures, there's always the persona that the NHL is the greatest league in the world and Russian-born players find it their challenge to come over and try to conquer it.
Vladimir Tarasenko after being selected at the 2010 NHL Draft in L.A.
And even though the 20-year-old Tarasenko has yet to make his intentions clear, if he needs a little prodding, maybe Blues general manager Doug Armstrong's message resonates loud and clear.
"We would not sign him to come over here and play in our minor league system," Armstrong said. "But all that being said, September 20th or whenever training camp opens, he has to prove it not to me, he has to prove it to the guys that he's sitting next to in the room that he's ready to play.
"We'd like him to come over because we think he can push for a roster spot on our team. We think he has the pedigree, he has the experience now."
Tarasenko finished the 2011-12 KHL season with 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) in 54 games with both Novosibirsk Siber, where he played 39 games before being traded to St. Petersburg SKA. He helped lead St. Petersburg to the conference finals and finished with 10 goals and 16 points in 15 playoff games.
Now it's up to Tarasenko to decide his future after he was left off of Russia's roster at the World Championships, which were just completed over the weekend in Sweden and Finland.
Armstrong went to the Scandinavian countries to have dialogue with the Tarasenko's camp, which include his U.S.-based agent and former Blues goalie Mike Liut as well as his Russian-based agent Alexei Dementiev.
"I know that the window is starting to close and his agents do," Armstrong said. "We've had some initial conversations that we're going to talk before June 1st."
It's also a legitimate question to wonder if Tarasenko, who was picked two spots behind the Blues' Jaden Schwartz, is ready to play in the NHL, why was he suddenly left off of Russia's roster at the Worlds?
Russian national coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov told Sovetsky Sport (sovsport.ru) that it came down to conditioning.
However, reports indicate that Tarasenko, listed at 6-foot-0, 202 pounds, is in shape and that he has been putting on muscle to prepare for his next challenge, which is the NHL, and it didn't sit too well with the national team. Also, with Tarasenko balking at making a commitment to playing in Russia next season could have been another reason he was left out of Russia's journey to winning the world championships.
"This young man still needs to learn," Bilyaletdinov told the publication, "and to understand that there’s a completely different level here. To play in the World Championships you need to prepare.
"Tarasenko came in such a condition that I thought he wasn’t quite prepared. I don’t know what it is related to. I wouldn’t want to discuss Vladimir’s attitude to work. But he needs to learn a certain lesson."
Vladimir Tarasenko captained Russia to a gold medal victory at the 2011
World Junior Championships.
Armstrong didn't sound like he was disappointed in Tarasenko being left off the roster and wasn't buying the political game of cards Russia was engaged in.
"No, the political games, not only for the Russian country, but … everyone views the World Championships differently," Armstrong said. "You're looking at players for potential Olympics, for different things. He made it last year, he had a good season [in the KHL this year]. He didn't make it on the roster this year. Why that is, I don't speak Russian so I'm not exactly sure why he's not on the team, but that has zero concern for me whether we think he should come to the NHL.
"We think he should come to the NHL. I hope he does come to the NHL. But I preface that by saying if he doesn't, he's still  years old. He's got a great career ahead of him. But we hope he comes. We'll see if he does."
Tarasenko could be weighing his options because there's the uncertainty of the NHL next season. With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire Sept. 15, Tarasenko could view that as a hurdle and have an unwillingness to come and play in Peoria until the NHL and NHLPA come together on a new CBA.
There's a concern among Blues fans that the team could lose Tarasenko, as NHL teams have two years to sign European players from the time they're drafted. However, since Russia is not part of the International Ice Hockey Association transfer agreement, there is no deadline on signing Tarasenko.