Two years ago I wrote an article about whether Vladimir Tarasenko was on track to becoming one of the greatest Blues in history or not. To be honest, it’s still pretty early to give a definitive answer to this question, but it’s the perfect time to review his progression.
If you’re like me, you’re having withdrawals from watching Tarasenko undress defensemen with his nifty dekes. You might also be thinking, When’s the last time I saw that? I’m asking myself the same question.
His once frequent highlight-reel goals are becoming rarer and rarer each year. Sure, consistently scoring jaw-dropping goals is a lot to ask for. But when your franchise sells you as a ‘superstar’, it’s not unreasonable for fans to get frustrated when point production is low, never mind the absence of pretty goals and neat moves.
As you can see above, Vladimir just had his worst full season in the NHL (point-wise). His 66 points in 2017-18 are only higher than his first two years in St. Louis, where he played 38 and 64 games. However, Tarasenko took 306 shots, which was a career-high.
But look, everybody has slow seasons. You can’t throw away everything we’ve seen from Tarasenko just because of one or two years, especially with his impressive offensive success in the past. Is 66 points bad when the most points earned on your team was 70 by Brayden Schenn? Well, it goes back to the superstar thing. If the Blues have been trying to sell him as a superstar, which I don’t think you can argue against, he needs to be consistently competing like a superstar.
For example, Alexander Ovechkin recorded 87 points in the 2017-18 regular season. What could be more impressive than that?
Well, he tallied 27 points in the 24 playoff games that followed. On top of that, this past season doesn’t even come close to his highest point production year. Ovi broke triple digits in four of his first five years in the NHL. That’s a superstar.
The streakiness has got to go in order for him to get back on track to superstar status. Points can be a tricky topic to compare, but streakiness is a pretty common flaw that is often magnified by fans.
Some thought being on a line with Jori Lehtera was part of the problem. At the end of November, Tarasenko was on the best line in the NHL, and everything was clicking.
When Jaden Schwartz got injured, inconsistency broke out throughout the entire Blues’ lineup. Even Schenn lost his game. That's when the Lehtera argument lost some of its validity. However, a healthy team with new faces may be the recipe for Tarasenko to have a breakout season.
Here’s an excerpt from the article I wrote two years ago:
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 odd man 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 player. I may be nit-picking here, but his inability to constantly grind in each game is vexing as he’s the focal point of our offense.
These two problems, consistency and motivation, were the two main flaws I focused on in that article. In my eyes, neither have been fixed yet. There's plenty of time left, but the clock is ticking.
While these flaws are areas he can continue to work on, his offensive success cannot be overlooked.
Tarasenko is one of the greatest goal scorers to throw on a Blues sweater. If you want to argue that, fine. Just don't expect me to listen to your argument. I believe he has what it takes to become one of the best all-around players.
Hitchcock thought so too.
On December 15, 2016, he told me:
“He (Vlad) has the ability to be (the best player in the league)… 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.”
Does the fact that this quote is two years old worry you a little? Or is it still comforting? Let me know what you think.
I'm pumped for the Tarasenkshow to start-up again in October.