ST. LOUIS — After tugging on his new No. 91 St. Louis Blues jersey Thursday, rookie forward Vladimir Tarasenko was ready to begin his NHL journey.
"I have received very good experience in the past few years at the KHL and I feel like this is the right time for me," the 20-year-old Tarasenko said through a Russian interpreter. "I am ready to play in the best league in the world. I'm thrilled to be here."
His size, his skill and the offensive numbers generated in Russian amateur competition and years in the KHL, Russia's pro league, suggest that he is ready.
A year ago he had 23 goals and 47 points during the KHL's regular season, then added 10 goals and 16 points in 15 playoff games with SKA St. Petersburg.
Tarasenko signed a three-year entry level contract with the Blues earlier this summer.
"I am very excited to be here in St. Louis playing for the St. Louis Blues and I am happy to help the team to win the Stanley Cup this year," Tarasenko said through his interpreter.
Tarasenko signed with the Blues earlier this year and joined the team on Tuesday for his first workout in St. Louis.
"We believe and Vladi believes that he's accomplished all the things necessary to become a player in the NHL," Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said. "I know from talking to him over the last couple years and spending time with he and his agent that everyone felt that the time was right for him to come over."
One thing Tarasenko quickly straightened out concerned his nickname. In North America, he has been called "The Tank" or "The Russian Tank" almost from the day the Blues drafted him with the 16th overall pick in 2010.
"In Russia all the players and people... my friends, call me Vova and Vladi," Tarasenko said Thursday. "I hear 'Tank' here (for the) first time."
In short, "Vladi" is better.
If Tarasenko lives up the vast hype and potential tagged to his No. 91 jersey, Blues fans will call him their own.
"Obviously we have visions of what we want him to do and what we want him to be," Armstrong said, "but I don't think it's fair to Vladi or to his teammates to expect him to be anything more than a 20-year-old player in a man's league."
How does Armstrong assess Tarasenko's talent?
"We think he's NHL-ready now," Armstrong said. "Now there's NHL-ready, and being a dominant player in the NHL. We're going to find out where he's at on that second part moving up.
"We wouldn't have signed him if we didn't think he could come over here and play and help our team right away."
Tarasenko seemed a bit overwhelmed at times by all the media attention Thursday, but speaks limited English and seemed to understand questions easily.
What about the opportunity to finally meet and play alongside his new Blues teammates?
"I am playing for the best league in the world and I have seen my current team members on TV and I've never played with them," he said. "Now I have an opportunity to play with them and work with them. I appreciate the warm welcome that the guys have given me and I do appreciate all their advice and recommendations."
Did Tarasenko have any favorite Russian or NHL players while growing up?
"I didn't really have any one in particular," he said. "I followed the best players and I made sure to learn from each of them."
If there is a lockout, Tarasenko's options would be returning to his native Russia to play in the NHL or staying in North America and play for the Blues' top farm team in Peoria.
Tarasenko indicated Thursday he would probably address that situation with Armstrong if the labor situation remains unsettled after the Sept. 15 deadline.
"There's the advantage of staying in North America, playing with some of the players he might play with (later)," Armstrong said, "getting to understand the North American culture off the ice, also playing on the smaller ice.
"But then (by) going home, he's developed over there and he's become a very good player over there. I think it's going to be a win-win and whatever we jointly decide is best for him is the area we'll go."
Anyone once known as "The Tank" has to be a physical player, right?
"He's not a maybe North American physical player like a fighter, but he's strong," Armstrong said. "As you can see he's got a hockey body. He's' got big hips and strong legs and very good puck protection skills, he can drive the puck to the net."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.