NASHVILLE — St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock couldn’t see the goal from the bench. As he puts it, "Players stand up anymore, I can’t see. I’m too short."
What Hitchcock couldn’t witness with his own two eyes was Vladimir Tarasenko splitting two Red Wings defencemen and making a backhand-to-forehand move to score his second goal in his first career NHL game.
"Never saw the first one, never saw the second one," Hitchcock said.
Tarasenko’s second goal, which dominated the highlight reels Saturday night, was like a bolt of lightning from a 21-year-old rookie who was the Blues’ first-round draft pick in 2010.
"That’s what gifted offensive people do. They make plays like that," Hitchcock said.
"I know he surprised the four other teammates of his on the ice at that time," said Andy McDonald, one of Tarasenko’s linemates. "What a move. What a wonderful night for him, being his first NHL game. There are only so many talented players like that out there."
It was an impressive debut for Tarasenko, who Saturday called his two-goal performance a "dream." But he didn’t just score twice in his 13:52 of ice time. He was "dominant all over the ice," Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo beamed. And the youngster followed up his two-point night with, yep, a three-point night Monday versus the Nashville Predators.
Tarasenko’s NHL introduction has his teammates excited about what the future may hold.
"A player with the flash he has, every team wants a player like that in their lineup," said Pietrangelo. "To add him on to that wing with (McDonald and Alex Steen), who are already dangerous, it’s going to be tough to handle."
The Blues, who won the Central Division in 2011-12, entered the season as one of the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders — and why not? Their goaltending is in good hands with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott; the offence, led by captain David Backes, is deep and versatile; the defense corps, anchored by Pietrangelo, is as solid as it’s ever been; and they play a style that makes it difficult for opponents to beat them.
To add a player like Tarasenko to a division champion that returns most of its roster from a season ago is more than gravy – it’s nearly unfair to the rest of the Western Conference.
"We had a lot of depth coming into this season, but to add him, all of a sudden we have a lot more offence. We feel we have a pretty complete lineup," McDonald said.
If you ask Hitchcock or Tarasenko’s teammates, the most impressive thing about the rookie is his demeanour. Although he was nervous before Saturday’s debut, a 6-0 win for the Blues against rival Detroit, Tarasenko is not intimidated by the NHL game.
"He’s a good kid," Hitchcock glowed. "He asks questions, he wants to learn, he wants to please the veteran players and has a healthy respect for the veteran guys in the league, which to me is so important. He’s almost a throwback. It’s really impressive."
Said McDonald of Tarasenko’s approach to Saturday’s debut, "He handled himself extremely well. Even though he’s coming from a different league, he was able to fit right in."
Tarasenko, who spent the lockout piling up 31 points in 31 games in the KHL, is able to fit right into the Blues’ locker room because of the tight bond the team has. He’s not jumping into a situation that is also completely new to his teammates. All but one player on the roster was with the Blues in some capacity last season, which makes the transition easier for the dynamic rookie from Russia.
"He’s fun to be around, and he’s adapting pretty well," Pietrangelo said. "We forget sometimes that he’s a kid, because he doesn’t play like it."