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Tarasenko Headed Back To KHL/Rink Rats!

June 27, 2010, 7:07 PM ET [ Comments]
Andy Strickland
St Louis Blues Blogger •1380 ESPN • RSSArchiveCONTACT
When Blues assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen arrived in Los Angeles early in the week he told Doug Armstrong he thought he could land both Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko .

Well he did.

The Blues left the Staples Center Friday night with two players they had rated number seven and eight respectively on their final draft list. Not many teams are able to leave a draft with two players rated in their top ten in their back pocket.

Speaking to an independent amateur scout he tells me the Blues got the steal of the draft in Tarasenko who the Blues took with the 16thth overall selection. The Blues did a nice job of moving 2009 first round pick D-man David Rundblad to make it happen. It’s good to see Rundblad maintained his value over the last year especially after a subpar World Junior Tournament.

Following Sweden’s game against the Americans multiple members of the Blues organization weren’t exactly handing out compliments regarding Rundblad’s performance. When asked about his play a high ranking Blues official responded “I didn’t really watch him, I was more focused on the American kids”. It takes just a tad of common sense to read between the lines there. I find it hard to believe a member of the Blues wasn’t watching their first round pick play in arguably the biggest game of the kid’s career.

In fairness Rundblad rebounded nicely when he returned to the Swedish Elite League as he put together a strong finish to the season that nearly earned him a spot on the men’s National Team for the World Championships. In the minds of the Ottawa Senators Rundbald’s value didn’t diminish over the last 12 months as they traded away their 16th pick this year in exchange for the 17th pick a year ago.

Kekalainen is being realistic when suggesting there’s no way Tarasenko would be available at 16 if he were a Canadian. We all know teams are weary of Russian born players nowadays and as an organization you do need to do your homework before taking one of these kids. I do feel some teams are a little too scared which can be puzzling considering the NHL is loaded with Russian superstars. This was pretty much created by Alexander Radulov who broke his contract with Nashville to return home a few years ago. The Radulov situation has impacted and rattled just about every NHL team.

There are a lot more Ovechkin and Malkin’s who stay than there are Radulov’s. It all comes down to who the player is. If you are innovative in your questioning during the interview process you can gather a decent amount of information about a player. I don’t care if you’re North American or European, there is always a risk when signing a player. How many North American players have signed big money deals and tanked?

St. Louis and New Jersey are a few teams that do a nice job with their secondary testing at the draft which places a player in a much more relaxed setting.

Here’s a tip to NHL clubs, don’t draft a Russian to be a third line player. They can turn around and be a top six guy and make more money over in the KHL. It’s understandable why a Russian would rather play in their home country where they’re more comfortable especially if it means they play a bigger role with their team and can make more cash. North America isn’t for every Russian player as some guys are just culturally out of place over here.

Russians have a choice when they come over, like Ovechkin they can make an effort to embrace the language and the culture or they can stay in Russia where they don’t have to adjust. One thing that never makes sense to me is why an NHL team would expect a Russian player to come over and play in the AHL. Why would a Russian player ever want to slug it out in the AHL when they can make more money in the KHL? Does an AHL team really need a Russian player in the minors anyway? I find very little reason to bring one of these guys over before they are ready to step right into the NHL.

Tarasenko convinced the Blues that it’s “his dream to play in the NHL” and they have no reason not to believe he wants to come over. In fact, after celebrating with his family in the stands, Tarasenko told the Blues staff “This is the most beautiful day of my life” when he reached the stage. The Blues and Tarasenko struck a chord during the interview process as his bubbly, outspoken personality exudes confidence and an excitement for life.

The Blues were careful before making this selection as there’s always some level of risk when taking Russian. Collecting an additional first rounder gave the club an opportunity to take a chance.

It makes sense to assume he would have been gone at 16 if he was North American, if he were from Canada or the U.S. it’s likely the Blues would have taken him ahead of Schwartz as well. Tarasenko has been competing in a men’s league that is far superior to the USHL and already has a man’s body at 210 pounds. Not to mention he’s closer than Schwartz to playing in the NHL.

How Close?

Tarasenko will return to Russia next season and has two years left on his existing contract. There was an agreement in place to allow him to leave for the NHL after the 2010-2011 season but that was with a previous General Manger who was recently replaced. There was some talk about his Father being replaced as the Head Coach but I’m being told it looks like he’ll stay. Having his dad as the head coach could make things somewhat interesting in a year or two down the roadl.

There is believed to be a buyout in his contract that would allow the player to pay his way out of any binding contract. No NHL team is allowed to pay a KHL team to get a player out of a contract. At the end of the day Tarasenko will come over at the age of 20 at the very latest. The Blues told him they’re more concerned with him being part of the organization for the next 15 years and want him to come over when he’s ready. It’s incredibly crucial that the Blues and the player start heir relationship off on the right foot and in this case they certainly have.

I would be careful with some of the comparisons being tossed around. Does he have a chance to be a special player? Yes he does, but he’s not Ovechkin or Malkin. He is a beast or in this case a “Russian Tank” at 210 pounds with only 10% body fat. He’s not your stereotypical Russian either as he’s the type of player who’ll get in your face if necessary. He once got absolutely destroyed by an American during a tournament and like Ovechkin got right up and went after the kid.

Speaking to numerous scouts in Los Angeles most tell me Tarasenko is hands down the third best forward in the draft behind Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. How many draft picks have already played games with the men’s National team? The Blues certainly had him rated higher than Jeff Skinner who went seventh overall to Carolina. They may not have had him ahead of Ryan Johansen who is a prototypical Canadian center who went 4th overall to Columbus. Regardless Tarasenko is considered a top five talent in the 2010 draft.

Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York Rangers, and Pittsbugh all believed to be interested in taking Tarasenko with the Penguins aggressively trying to trade up and get him. I don’t think there are many teams all that eager to help Pittsburgh become even better.

Rink Rats!

New Jersey D-man Paul Martin is eyeing St. Louis as a possible destination come July first.

When asked what his least favorite thing about hockey, a highly rated player answered practice! No wonder the kid slipped out of the first round. I coach kids and for the sake of the player I won’t name him here as he’s only 18 and has a long way to go.

Atlanta took Russian Alexander Burmistov over Tarasenko primarily because he doesn’t have an contract to play in the KHL next season.

The CHL produced 51% of the draft selections in LA. The WHL led the way with 43 followed by the OHL with 42 and the QMJHL with 22.

Willie Mitchell has yet to be cleard mediacally to play next season but expects to have that done very soon.

The Penguins expect to turn to Billy Guerin after they decide what they're going to do with Sergei Gonchar but it’s far from a slam dunk that he returns to Pittsburgh next season.

Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma and Blues Head Coach Davis Payne took a fishing trip together earlier this summer.

There was a loud ovation late in the first round when Anaheim selected Emerson Etem with the 29th pick. Part of that ovation was from a T.V. crew who came all the way down from Medicine Hat, Alberta to film a documentary on the kid and his family. They told me Anaheim saved the film.

Scouts with the Florida Panthers told Moose Jaw’s Quinton Howden, who they took in round one, that they were only interested in character kids. They then turned around and took John McFarland with their 1st pick in round two who had some character question marks coming into the draft. Both Howden and McFarland were the first overall picks in the 2007 WHL and OHL bantam draft respectively.

Some of these tampering stories I’m hearing going on right now are very interesting.

Joel Quenneville will be taking the Stanley Cup back to his native Windsor, Ontario later this summer. The cup will also make an appearance at the annual Canada Day Parade in Windsor. I’m told this might be the first time the Memorial Cup and the Stanley Cup have ever made an appearance at the same time in the Parade.

I love the trends that take place among NHL GM’s and in this case trading for players negotiating rights. I understand the advantage of having an opportunity to be the only team to negotiate with a player but unless you know you’re going to sign him why not just wait another week or two and sign him without giving up anything.

The Blachawks are waiting to learn if John Torchetti will be leaving to join the staff in Atlanta.

Quenneville on Chris Pronger “Smartest player I’ve ever been around”.

I noticed 11 Americans were taken in the first round of the draft but not one of them came out of the USHL which is our top junior league. Jaden Schwartz did come out of the USHL but he’s Canadian. I don’t count the kids coming out of the Development program as USHL players as the U-18 and the U-17 teams split the schedule.

Brandon Gormley who was taken 13th by Phoenix is best friends with Jaden Schwartz. The two arrived at the draft together and shared a room over the weekend. “He’s electrifying, a fearless player who will block shots. Some try to find a negative because of his size but there’s nothing he can’t do,” Gormley said about Schwartz.

Blues Clues!

The Blues did a real nice job of piecing together a diverse draft class. They came away with size and high end skill. How many teams can say they took a player from the USHL, Russia, Minnesota, Finland, Sweden, QMJHL and the WHL?

Jaden Schwartz- Blues love his hockey sense and ability to score. He’s been a superstar point getter at every level he’s played including at Notre Dame in he SJHL where he broke several offensive records. He sees players others don’t and has an incredible level of hockey sense. The numbers this kid has put up are crazy. The USHL is not an easy league to produce points as scouts often refer to it as a Roller Derby league meaning guys are coming at you from all angles and play as hard as they can every single night. He was Canada’s #2 center behind Tyler Seguin in the recent U-18 World Championships. The focus he’s demonstrated while his sister Mandi battles cancer says a lot about this kid. The Schwartz family continues to look for a bone-marrow match she desperately needs. Please go to www.becomemandishero.com for more info on helping out the Schwartz family.

Sebastian Wannstrom-The Blues were surprised he was around at #44 in the second round. Like David Perron he was skipped over in his first year of draft eligibility. Plays like Lars Eller, not afraid to play inside. Still needs to add strength. Led Sweden’s Junior Elite League in scoring.

Max Gardiner- This Minnesota High Schooler was taken in the third round. He plays a power forward game who can play wing or center. Uses body very well and could project to become a second line winger. Will attend University of Minnesota next year.

Jani Hakanpaa- This 4th rounder is a big D-man and compares well size wise to Eric Brewer. Can run a power play and move the puck in transition which has the Blues hopeful he develops into a top 4 D-man. He had a strong World Junior tourney playing for Finland.

Cody Beach-in the fifth round the Blues added some serious toughness with this 6’5 184 pound forward. He’s been described to me as crazy and a bigger version of Cam Janssen.

Stepehen MacAulay-Taken in the 6th round out of the QMJHL played anywhere from the first to the fourth line on a stacked St. John Sea Dogs roster. He’s a beanpole at only 168 pounds which the Blues are hoping fills out to around 210 one day. Can play wing or center and can kill penalties. People who watch him on a regular basis tell me he compares well to Jay McClement.

The Blues say newly acquired Vladimir Sobotka will be ready to play by training camp after having his shoulder operated on in May. He’s a guy who should be a decent 4th line center who creates energy and can bury every now and then. He can skate and plays a real hard game who gets under the skin of the opposition. Should make the roster next fall.

Former 7th round pick of the Blues Max Tardy plays with Schwartz in Tri Cities.

Congrats to St. Louis kids D-man John Ramage who was taken by Calgary in the 4th round, D-man Tony Dehart who was drafted in the 5th round by the Islanders and forward Michael Parks who the Flyers selected in the fifth as well. Dehart, who played the last few years in the OHL, won a National title with Phillip McRae several years ago with the AAA Blues and once participated in the Blues development camp. Basil McRae coached Dehart for a long time here in St. Louis. Parks came up with the AAA Blues organization where he played several years.

One scout in reference to Ramage.."All he does is win."

If you have a minute go to www.espn.go.com/espys to vote for Team USA Sled Hockey goalie Steve Cash. He posted five straight shutouts in the recent Paralympics. He did not allowing a single goal in Vancouver en route to a Gold Medal. Cash is up for best male athlete with a disability.

I thought it was a class move for John Davidson to only send up Larry Pleau and Jarmo Kekalainen to the podium before Blues made their first selection.

If anything Doug Armstrong has shown he has some stones and isn't afraid to make some moves. He's already traded two former 1st rounders, traded for a number one goaltender, and made the move to allow Jarmo to get a Russian player he coveted.

More to come,

Andy Strickland

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