ST. LOUIS — Even before the door to the St. Louis Mills ice rink opened Tuesday morning, dozens of Blues fans were lined up outside.
Their mission was to catch a first glimpse at the team's top prospect and brightest young talent, Vladimir Tarasenko.
A large crowd applauded when Tarasenko finally hit the ice around 10:15 a.m. to participate in a voluntary workout with Blues teammates and other local hockey players.
"It just shows the knowledge and support of the fans we have here," Blues winger Jamie Langenbrunner said when asked about the large gathering on a Tuesday morning in early September. "It's a nice warm welcome for him and for all of us to see the excitement a guy like him brings to the team. It's fun to be around."
Tarasenko, who also was scheduled to pick up his first social security card on Tuesday, was not allowed to speak to the media. The team has scheduled a Thursday news conference to make his formal introduction.
Blues defenseman Ian Cole knew something was up when he saw all the people at The Mills.
"Half the jerseys you didn't know what they said, they were all in Russian," he said, spotting several of those in the stands. "I guess that's a good sign that they're not here for me or any of the other guys. It really sends a thrill of excitement, an electric shock through the fan base.
"I think it's pretty cool, especially with this lockout that may or may not happen, getting the fans focused on the light at the end of the tunnel."
Blues fans who saw the team take a huge step forward last season are hoping Tarasenko --who turns 21 in December -- could be another big push in that direction.
He was the 16th overall pick in the 2010 draft and his combination of size (6 foot, 215 pounds), strength and scoring potential made him a fan favorite before he ever hit the ice.
"It's exciting to have him here," Blues winger Andy McDonald said. "There were a lot of fans here that came out to see him. I think we had maybe three or four (fans) last week, so obviously he's got a big impact here."
Tarasenko had 23 goals and 47 points in 54 games last season in the Russian pro KHL league, splitting time with Novosibirsk Siber and St. Petersburg SKA.
Asked about Tarasenko's on-ice potential, McDonald offered this extremely optimistic view.
"He's pretty stocky and obviously that's a big factor in the NHL," McDonald said. "You've got to be strong on your skates and you also have to be fast...he's fast and he's big, so he's probably the complete package."
Tarasenko arrived in St. Louis on Friday and on Tuesday skated with teammates for the first time.
"I thought he looked good," Cole said. "We didn't do a lot of skill work, but just in the drills that we did do it was pretty evident that he can score from almost anywhere on the ice."
Langenbrunner said the team will transition to Tarasenko, but the Russian forward's transition to English, larger North American rinks and a different style game will be difficult.
"You want him to feel comfortable and we have a group of guys that do that," Langenbrunner said. "It's very welcoming. Those things take time, he's got to learn what we're all about and we've got to learn what he's all about."
While Blues fans were giddy with excitement about Tarasenko, there's also the looming presence of labor problems and a potential lockout that could cost the NHL part or all of the upcoming season.
The league has set a Sept. 15 lockout deadline and talks between the NHL and NHL Players Association have not taken place since Friday.
"I'm hopeful," McDonald said. "I don't know how realistic it's going to be to get done by the 15th. Both sides seem to be kind of far apart right now, but that being said there's some time here to get it done.
"Hopefully everyone realizes that for the good of the game we need to get a deal done. We can't go through what we went (through) last time and have a lockout where our fans don't get to see hockey for a year."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.