For the longest time, there was a big criticism of the way the St. Louis Blues were constructed. They had plenty of good players, more than almost everyone else, but no true star players.
Then came Vladimir Tarasenko.
Acquired using a pick (16th overall) the Ottawa Senators traded to St. Louis in exchange for David Rundblad, Tarasenko was always considered a high-end prospect, but the level to which he has developed in the NHL has been special to watch.
At just 24-years-old, Tarasenko is the NHL’s premier scoring chance generator, both individually, and in the opportunities he creates for his linemates.
It’s sort of unfair to compare Tarasenko to the league average in these kinds of statistics, all three of which he leads the NHL in, but it serves to show the startling contrast.
What’s most impressive about Tarasenko this year, though, is that he’s not leading these stats by a slim margin. Tarasenko makes 8.9 scoring chance-generating plays per 20 minutes at even strength, and the next best player in the entire league (a tie between Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, Evgeni Malkin, and Jason Spezza) makes 7.7. If you took the 1.2 event gap between Tarasenko and the players tied for second and looked at how many players fit in between 7.7 and 6.5 scoring chance-generating plays per minute, you’d be all the way down in the late-20s.
The gap between Tarasenko and the next-best player in individual scoring chances (Ovechkin) isn’t as large; only 0.3 per 20 minutes played. But still: Tarasenko is ahead of Alex Ovechkin.
When watching Tarasenko, there are a few keys to watch out for that show how he’s so successful:
1. Physical strength: There’s a reason why his nickname (even though he hated it) used to be tank; Tarasenko is a beast. He’s only six feet tall, but Tarasenko is stocky, fights for his space and through checks. One of his greatest attributes as a player may be his balance. How often has a stick been in his feet as he splits defencemen only for him to shrug it off and get a great chance?
2. Stickhandling/deking: Only a handful of players attempt to deke more often in the offensive zone than Tarasenko. He is rarely satisfied with getting a pass and shooting and often tries to make an extra move to get into a better shooting position. Dekes are low-percentage plays, even for Tarasenko they fail 75 per cent of the time, but the results of a successful one are greater than the negative impact of a failed one, for goal scorers anyway.
3. Patience: Those last two skills combine with Tarasenko’s hockey sense to make him one of the most patient shooters in the game. He still gets his fair share of volume of shots, but he has the instincts at times to wait that split second it might take to freeze a goaltender, or for a defenceman to make a mistake.
These factors, aside from his pure shooting talent, are big reasons why Tarasenko is so effective, but another is knowing where on the ice he needs to get to in order to score goals.
Above, you can see what percentage of Tarasenko’s shots come from each area on the ice, with the blue curve representing his median shot distance, and the blue number being the percentage of his shot attempts within that area that hit the net.
What we know from Sportlogiq data is that you have more than double the chance of scoring a goal from the inner slot (24.6 shooting percentage) than the outer slot (11.4 shooting percentage), so you might be thinking that Tarasenko is a bit of a perimeter player. However, superstars don’t score most of the goals in the NHL.
For a fourth-line player, getting to that inner slot is much more valuable because their shooting talent isn’t very high, but for players like Tarasenko, finding open space to get a shot off is likely more important than getting closer to the net.
What makes him an elite goal scorer isn’t that he gets very close to the net; it’s simply about releasing his shot.
And he happens to be very good at that.