Breaking Down the Hype

Kevin Lorenz, Mon, 04 Jun 2012 13:27:00 GMT

Unless you’ve been under a rock since summer 2010, or you just really don’t care about the Blues, you’ve heard the name Vladimir Tarasenko. In fact I’ve written about him multiple times in anticipation of his possible (though at one point not likely) signing with the St. Louis Blues after being selected 16th overall in 2010.

We had covered all of the talking points. He was the fourth or fifth best player in the draft depending on whom you asked; if his name was John Smith, he’d have been selected in the top five. On the other hand there was a reason the Blues selected Jaden Schwartz first before making a move to acquire the pick to take him. He’s a dynamic and exciting player in the KHL and in international play, but we don’t know how that play translates to the NHL.

All that being debated, Tarasenko has been the most talked about prospect in recent Blues’ history. Though we cannot be sure what to expect from his career, either in his first year, or overall, two recent test cases from Russia provide drastically different examples of what COULD happen.

Evgeni Malkin:
Like Tarasenko, Malkin played in the then Russian Superleague as a teen; Malkin began at age 17, Tarasenko played as a 16 year old. Following his draft, Malkin played two more seasons in the Superleague before defecting from his Russian team in 2006 and heading to Pittsburgh, the team that drafted him second overall in 2004.

Malkin took the NHL by storm in his rookie season playing on a Pittsburgh Penguins team that was loaded with young talent. He scored 85 points (33g 52a) in just 78 games. In his six seasons he has scored 100 points three times, has won two scoring titles, a Conn Smythe Trophy for postseason MVP, and won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year.

Widely considered one of the five best players in the world, Malkin shows the rewards possible when taking a risk on a Russian-born prospect, but then there’s, .

Nikita Filatov:
Taken sixth overall in 2008, Filatov was considered to be the third best player in the draft by ISS, ranked ahead of Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, and Luke Schenn, and the fifth best player according to TSN. NHL’s Central Scouting ranked him as the best European skater. Leading up to the draft he was described as a œhuman highlight reel,� and many teams were rumored to be interested in trading up for his services. His offensive pedigree aside, Filatov had shown a strong desire to play in the NHL in interviews, and his ability to speak English well was considered one less thing teams bringing him in would have to worry about.

In what was believed to be a good sign, Filatov accepted beginning the season in the AHL after he did not make the Blue Jackets out of camp in his rookie year. He played 8 NHL games and scored 4 goals. The next season he played just 13 NHL games, scoring 2 goals before going back to Russia instead of the AHL. Then Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock attempted to teach Filatov a more defensively responsible game.

After more of the same, a 23 game NHL stint in 2010-2011 with no goals and just 7 assists, the Blue Jackets traded Filatov to the Ottawa Senators for a third round pick. In 2011-2012, Filatov played 9 games with the Senators managing just 1 assist before ultimately ending up back in the KHL.

It would be irresponsible to say that Tarasenko will end up exactly like either one of Malkin or Filatov, but as with all players, Russian or North American (see Alexander Daigle), the hype surrounding young prospects can often be unfair and or completely inaccurate when they finally do step on the ice for their first NHL games.