The short answer? Probably. The long answer? Keep reading.
Vladimir Tarasenko is one of the greatest players to ever wear a St. Louis Blues jersey. However, many won’t even mention his name when discussing the best players in the NHL. Here’s why they don’t, and here’s why they should.
If you picked five random regular season games, Vladimir Tarasenko would score at least two goals in those games. When he wants to, Tarasenko can embarrass a pair of defensemen and undress a goaltender with his jaw-dropping stickhandling.
I’ve never seen a shot released as quickly as Vlad’s. His accuracy only adds to the amazement. Watching him shoot and stickhandle is special by itself—throw in the most skilled defensemen in the world, and boom: entertainment gold.
Photos: Vladimir Tarasenko
Regardless, he isn’t considered the ‘complete package’ to some.
I understand there are a few flaws in his play, but I look at these flaws as opportunities to improve his game. Last postseason, Tarasenko was caught on camera pouting after being sat during a powerplay. When Coach Ken Hitchcock tried to pat him on the back after a period, Tarasenko shrugged his shoulder away in frustration. While I don’t think this is much to look into, it was a big deal last year.
Another flaw that seems to appear each year is his lackluster backcheck. I’m guessing that is what most Tarasenko critics result to once a fan claims the 25-year-old as one of the greatests. Although there are some instances where his ‘laziness’ is quite obvious, in his 294 games played, Vladdy has earned a respectable +/- of 50. For perspective, Alex Ovechkin has a +/- of 78 in his 872 NHL games.
In my opinion, the only valid flaws are his spontaneous droughts where there seems to be a lack of determination in his play. While this point could easily be debunked by a fan who watches him play purely for offense, I’m confident my observation isn’t far-fetched. It’s frustrating to watch him occasionally coast into the defensive zone during an opposing team’s oddman break—especially after watching him zip through the other team with the puck on his stick. I expect a similar amount of effort going into the backcheck as the forecheck when considering an all-time great. This point may not resonate well since he’s been playing great as of late, but his inability to constantly grind in each game is vexing as he’s the focal point of our offense.
While these points are areas he could work on, his offensive success cannot be overlooked.
According to NHL.com (http://www.nhl.com/stats/leaders), the league average is 9.5 points.
In the first 35 games of the 2016-17 season, Vlad has registered a total of 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists). Tarasenko has four times the league’s average. He has 3 game-winning goals and only 8:00 penalty minutes.
Vladimir Tarasenko has four fewer points than Connor McDavid, who has already secured a spot on the greatests of all-time list.
Tarasenko is one of the greatest goalscorers of all-time, but I believe he has what it takes to become one of the best all-around players, and so does Hitch.
“He has the ability to be (the best player in the league) because he's got five tools,” said Hitchcock after a victory against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 15. “I've said this since training camp, he's one of the best passers in the game, doesn't get enough credit for it. But he's in a position where if he continues to progress like he is right now, he's got a chance from an all-around play standpoint, he's got a real chance to be the top guy.”
It may be too early to declare him one of the all-time greatests, but we’ll be able to eventually. In my opinion—which I’ve tried to make as least-biased as possible considering I’m a diehard Blues fan—Vladimir Tarasenko is one of the most gifted players in the world. With a hopeful future, he has potential to become one of the greatests to strap on skates. Now we wait.