Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Tarasenko is St. Louis’ X-factor


When Vladimir Tarasenko arrived on the scene last year from Russia, he came in with a lot of mystery.

A lot of familiar questions were raised: Would he adapt well to the North American game? Would he struggle with in a defensive system like the Blues have? Go ahead and insert any tired cliché about Russians.

What he did do, however, was show what he was all about right away scoring twice in his first game (including in highlight fashion) and piling up five points in his first two.

It wasn’t all fun and games, however. His production slowed down and then he suffered a concussion in mid-February that kept him out of action for a month. After that, his production slowed even more and his minutes were cut down. As it was, Tarasenko played in just one game in the playoffs.

As Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, Ken Hitchcock thinks he could be in for a big season because he’ll be more comfortable this time around.

 “He’s not going to be surprised by anything, he’s going to be way more ready, so I think our hope is that you see a player more comfortable, more composed, more assured of himself and I think this year we’ll get a really good evaluation. In talking to him, he’s about as far away as you can get from sophomore jinx. He’s hungry, he’s focused. Now you get to see his natural ability on a daily basis.”

The Blues will need him to be all that and then some. Hitchcock notes they were comfortable dealing David Perron because they wanted to make room, and get more minutes, for Tarasenko.

The team is doing what it can to help him break out and if he can do it, he can give them something they’ve lacked over the years: A bonafide gamebreaking scorer. If he can’t take that step, however, the Blues will have to hope their grinding style can lead them to the promised land.

Larkin will start season with Red Wings

Dylan Larkin
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Dylan Larkin — despite being just 19 years old — will begin the season on the Detroit Red Wings, a team not normally accustomed to having teenagers in the lineup.

Coach Jeff Blashill confirmed the news this morning. Larkin could apparently start on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

Larkin, the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft, had three goals and one assist in five preseason games. A natural center, he’s shown the potential to one day step into the kind of “big-time” role that Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have played for so long in Detroit.

“You have to give our scouts credit,” former coach Mike Babcock told ESPN in May. “We got a great pick where we picked. How high end is he? How soon?”

Related: Coaching change ‘one of the reasons’ Larkin signed with Wings

Preseason stats: Five goalies with good numbers, five goalies with…not

Anders Nilsson
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Yeah, yeah, it’s a small sample size and it’s just the preseason, but here are some goaltending stats anyway.

Five goalies with good numbers

Anders Nilsson, Edmonton — zero goals on 53 shots. His solid play a likely factor in the decision to waive Ben Scrivens, who actually wasn’t that bad in the preseason (4 goals on 56 shots).

Martin Jones, San Jose — three goals on 100 shots. The Sharks are rolling the dice on a couple of cheap goalies. Jones and Alex Stalock have a combined cap hit of just $4.6 million.

Jacob Markstom, Vancouver — three goals on 79 shots. Can he finally get over the NHL hump? If so, he could make it a real competition with Ryan Miller.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus — five goals on 122 shots. The Blue Jackets have scored a ton of goals in the preseason, but there remain questions about their blue line. Bobrovsky has the ability to make a so-so defense look good.

Anton Khudobin, Anaheim — two goals on 67 shots. A good early sign for the Ducks, who have Frederik Andersen in the starting role and want to give young John Gibson more time to develop in the AHL.

Five goalies with bad numbers

Thomas Greiss, Islanders — 14 goals on 94 shots. Has to be a bit of concern in Brooklyn. The Isles got below-average backup play last season from Chad Johnson. They wanted to fix that with the Greiss signing.

Robin Lehner, Buffalo — 11 goals on 95 shots. Tim Murray paid a hefty price to get the 24-year-old out of Ottawa. With the aforementioned Johnson in the backup role, the goaltending story is worth watching.

Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh — 11 goals on 74 shots. Granted, Marc-Andre Fleury and Matthew Murray weren’t particularly sharp either. The Penguins conceded 28 goals in eight games.

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas — 15 goals on 84 shots. For a Stars team that desperately needs better goaltending, that has to be worrying. Antti Niemi wasn’t a whole lot better either, allowing eight goals on 65 shots. Fair question to ask — how many of all those goals were attributable to poor defensive play?

Pekka Rinne, Nashville — 12 goals on 91 shots. Has earned the benefit of the doubt, but thought we’d point it out anyway.