18 November 2013, 21:28

VOR’s NHL: 1-on-1 with phenom Tarasenko

By David Kerans

WASHINGTON (VOR)— The NHL staged a special showdown Sunday night in Washington, featuring the league’s two top goal scorers, two of the hottest young prospects, and two of the best goalies, playing for two of the strongest teams, STL and WSH.

STL has not fared well in the playoffs under coach Ken Hitchcock over the last two years, but they have piled up a sterling regular season record, and anyone who saw their ferocious 1st round series against LA last spring knew this team was fully capable of winning the Stanley Cup. The only missing piece, it seems, was a gifted scorer.

Enter Vladimir Tarasenko. Not yet 22, Tarasenko is one of the world’s most promising young players (as is one of his teammates, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo). Should he blossom into a top scorer, STL will immediately rank as one of the most feared NHL teams. We caught up with him after the WSH game, during which he certainly did not disappoint...

Yes, The Great 8

The game itself went Ovie’s way. The Great 8 scored twice in the first (one a hammer that humbled Halak), and WSH finished the first up by a nearly insurmountable 3-0.

However, while the scoreboard was never closer than 3-1, STL gave a strong account of itself, racking up 47 shots on goal. Blues captain David Backes led by example, pushing play forward and contesting the goalmouth with WSH foes at every opportunity. Hitchcock was not upset with his team. Speaking to reporters after the game, he lamented only the loose coverage on some of the Caps’ early goals (two came off rebounds, bouncing pucks that Ovie and Grabovsky batted in improbably with their backhands).

Shame ride

WSH G Holtby was very sharp all night, enough to make a serious case for himself on Team Canada in Sochi, we thought. His 46 stops were a personal high. STL starter Halak, for his part, was pulled in the first, and finished the night on a stationary bike of shame--sweating out a workout as penance, it appeared, while his teammates dressed for the team bus.

85% Corsi 5-on-5!?

As for Tarasenko, he and his linemates Pavel Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz all showed plenty of skill and speed. Caps’ coach Adam Oates must have been a bit concerned, as he rotated two of his top lines against Tarasenko-Sobotka-Schwartz throughout the first two periods. Clearly, nothing worked: the trio's 5-on-5 on-ice Corsi numbers averaged 25 to 5 (25 shot attempts by STL versus 5 by WSH). That’s a wrecking, and they ought to have netted more than Sobotka’s one goal (a fine wrister that beat Holtby from the slot).

Performances like Sunday's should earn Tarasenko a spot on Russia's Olympic team, but it is not clear if coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov will choose him.


Speaking of coaches, ex-NYI-CAR-PHI coach and Cup winner Peter Laviolette was on hand to see STL-WSH, as were LA GM Ron Hextall and Dave Brown, currently PHI's Head of Pro Scouting (alongside coach Craig Berube and GM Paul Holmgren--anyone else sense the harmony there?). We'll leave it to others to speculate on the meaning behind Laviolette's presence, and contain ourselves to commending the graciousness with which he declined our request for an interview.


1-on-1 with Tarasenko: "I took my cue from my dad"

(translated by David Kerans)

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Kerans: Like a couple of your teammates here in St. Louis, Alex Pietrangelo and Alex Steen, you grew up differently from many aspiring players, in that your father was a very successful professional player. In your case, your father Andrei was even an Olympian, in 1994. One might assume that he encouraged you a lot to become a hockey player. Or perhaps not? Perhaps he didn’t interfere, and waited for you to make your own choice? What role did he play?

Tarasenko: Well, I would say the first person to involve me in hockey was my grandfather, because I lived with my grandparents during the wintertime through the years when my father was playing in Tolyatti and we couldn’t live together {from when Vladimir was five years old to when he was nine--DK}. But my father made a huge contribution to my hockey. He was my coach for four and a half years later on, in Novosibirsk. He gave me a lot, I absorbed everything I could from him. I never had a hockey idol. I took my cue from my dad, and picked up some of his techniques. To this day he helps me, from a distance, of course, but we talk after every game on the phone, he gives me some advice. It really helps my game.

Kerans: What about your mother, did she have a career in sport?

Tarasenko: No, she didn’t.

Kerans: You were born in December, and in the Russian and Canadian hockey systems, this is assumed to be a significant disadvantage, because players are grouped into teams based on their year of birth, so boys born in December are less physically developed than their teammates and opponents. {Malcolm Gladwell's famous thesis on Canadian hockey, in Outliers--DK} Were you conscious of that, and did it matter in any way?

Tarasenko: I don’t think it really matters what month you were born in. Everything depends on the development of the individual person. We’re all different. You could be born in December and not be all that strong, okay. But those born in January aren’t necessarily all that strong either. It’s all built in. Everyone works to get what they can out of themselves, so, I think everything depends on the person.

Gold 2011

To Russia, with Gold: Tarasenko wearing the “C” for the World Junior Champion Russian National Team, speaking to the press upon returning to Moscow, 2011

Photo credit: © RIA Novosti, Ruslan Krivobok


Kerans: At what age did you sense that you were developing significantly far ahead of other players born in 1991? Was it when you were 10, or 11, or 12 maybe? And, once you did notice this, did you want to maybe play with a 1990 birth-year team, or move to a big club, perhaps to one of the strongest, in Moscow?

Tarasenko with SKA

Tarasenko swooping in to get off a shot for SKA in a playoff game in 2012

Photo credit: © RIA Novosti, Konstantin Chalabov


Tarasenko: I never had any urge to go to a Moscow club. Nor did I ever desire to move to St. Petersburg. But as circumstances developed, I played four years in the KHL in Novosibirsk, starting just before I turned seventeen, and learned relatively early that I could play with the adults. Then it turned out that I transferred to St. Petersburg {to SKA—DK}, and I don’t regret it at all. I’m really glad I had the chance to test my abilities in one of the strongest clubs in the nation. It was an excellent platform to improve my game, and I learned a lot there. I think I held up well, I got to meet a lot of good guys, accumulated some good experience.

Kerans: Some people will tell you that organized practices and games aren’t sufficient for a hockey or football (soccer) player to develop his creativity, regarding stickhandling, skating, tricks, etc. They say you need to play on your own, with friends, in pickup games, etc., if you want your creativity to shine. Just a few days ago Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils described how much it meant to him that he was able to play on a frozen pond outdoors while he was growing up, how he and his brothers played a lot of hockey like that. You must have had the opportunity to play hockey outdoors for fun with friends all winter long when you were growing up. Did you do a lot of that, or did you focus on structured training sessions with your club?

Tarasenko: I played outside when I was living with my grandfather and grandmother. I used to go out for four or five hours playing. Spent a lot of time there, obviously, and I remember the spot perfectly well.

Kerans: What years where those?

Tarasenko: Oh, that’s a while back already. But it was when I was young, of course, because I was playing in the KHL already before my seventeenth birthday. And from that point I couldn’t really play outdoors, because we had practices and were travelling all the time. But before that, say from age 10 to 14, I was out playing all the time--football in the summer, hockey in the winter. So I was building up a lot of experience.

for Russia

For Russia, with gusto: Tarasenko launching himself on a forecheck during his first World Championship tournament for Russia, 2011 (facing Slovenia here)

Photo credit: © EPA, Peter Hudec


Kerans: As important as skating is in hockey, players traditionally haven’t gotten much advice on it from coaches, even at top quality clubs. That has changed a fair amount in the last 20 years, with the appearance of “power skating” specialists following in the footsteps of the great Laura Stamm {Stamm became something of a sensation after training NYI’s Bob Nystrom in the mid-70s—DK}. Nevertheless, the percentage of developing hockey players who receive a significant amount of attention from a skating specialist remains small. I’m wondering what sort of attention, if any, that anyone gave to your skating technique while you were a teenager.

Tarasenko: Well, again, my dad suggested a lot of things, and it came together for me. My skating is very similar to his, so I think a lot of it is genetic. But you have to put a lot of work into it, not only on the ice but also in the gym. I put a lot of time into it.

hockey, NHL, National Hockey League, Vladimir Tarasenko, Peter Laviolette, VOR's NHL
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