Tarasenko turning heads
A fellow wearing No. 91 feathered a magical pass Friday at Joe Louis Arena, creating a scoring chance that was converted.
For 13 NHL seasons, when this scenario played out, Detroit Red Wings fans smiled.
This time, they grimaced.
That's because the man engineering Matt D'Agostini's first-period goal was St. Louis Blues' sensational rookie right-winger Vladimir Tara-senko.
The Wings got the last laugh, coming away with a 5-3 victory, but it's evident that going forward, Tarasenko will be causing many headaches for the team he worshipped as a youngster growing up in Novosbirsk, Russian.
"So many Russian players were here and pretty much the whole of Russia were cheering for Detroit," Tarasenko explained through interpreter Dmitry Malinovsky.
"So basically, I kind of was like everybody."
On the ice, he's a lot like a very famous member of Detroit's heralded Russian Five.
You watch Tarasenko in action you see former Red Wings star Sergei Fedorov, and not merely because Tarasenko wears Fedorov's No. 91 on his back.
Yes, he's got the requisite puck skills and silky-smooth skating stride, but like Fedorov, there's much more to Tarasenko's game than flash and dash.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock certainly sees parallels between the two players.
"He just kind of wows you with his tenacity on the puck, his ability to make plays in small spaces," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "He's so strong on the puck.
"He's a much better checker than people think, he's a powerful man - he's 200-plus pounds - and he's got that quick release.
"He's dangerous. He makes plays every game."
Tarasenko leads the Blues with 5-5-10 totals, but they are hardly the only element of his game worthy of recognition.
Fedorov was a Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP, and a Selke Trophy recipient as the league's top defensive forward, elements of all-around play that are evident in Tarasen-ko's game.
He may be a lad of 21, but the kid performs with the savvy of a seasoned veteran.
"You're forever teaching angles to kids," Hitchcock said. "(Tarasenko) gets angles.
"He gets checking angles, he gets forechecking angles, backchecking angles, he gets his stick in the right position. He plays with his stick on the ice in the defensive zone.
"Overall, I think he's been a guy who you can trust every shift."
Like Fedorov's father Viktor, Tarasenko's dad Andrei, a member of the 1994 Russian Olympic team, is a coach.
It's apparent that his son learned his lessons - both of the hockey and life variety - quite well.
"He's a coach's grandson, he's a coach's son," Hitchcock said.
"He's been well taught. But the part everybody likes about him is that he's a throwback.
"He's not like the new generation. He's back to the old way that young players used to act and behave, which is really, really refreshing.
"There's no sense of entitlement, there's no sense that anything's owed to him. He's willing to earn it.
"If it's an optional skate, even if he played 20 minutes, he's out there. He doesn't want days off. He's first at the rink. You don't have any trouble with him."
The Wings might disagree on that last point, especially defenceman Kyle Quincey, who's been turned inside out by Tarasenko three times in two games.
As much as he's flattered by the Fedorov talk, Tarasenko doesn't allow himself to buy into it.
"I'm way too young to earn that kind of comparison," Tarasenko said.
"I still have time to work and earn that kind of credit."
Yes, he has many years of hockey ahead of him, and teams will face just as many sleepless nights devising ways to slow the NHL's latest budding Russian star.
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