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Vladimir Tarasenko is becoming one of the NHL's most exciting players

Now in his second full NHL season, Vladimir Tarasenko is emerging as a legitimate force.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Vladimir Tarasenko came to North America with the common, albeit unfair, "enigmatic" label attached to his name. As a Russia native who skated in the Kontinental Hockey League during his Age 16 and 17 seasons -- for his father, no less -- the 6-foot right wing was considered a risk upon entering the NHL Draft in 2010.

Alexander Radulov and several other Europeans had previously abandoned Stanley Cup dreams for comfort and riches found only at home; Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Burminstrov have since followed comparable paths. And they serve as cautionary tales for NHL executives, who have grown wary of investing in those who might do the same.

So, despite talent worthy of a top-five selection, Tarasenko fell to 16th overall, where St. Louis pounced. General manager Doug Armstrong traded defenseman David Rundblad to Ottawa for the pick -- a move that was viewed as dicey, yet potentially huge, for a franchise short in offense.

Suffice it to say, the Blues made out well.

Following a breakout campaign in 2013-14, Tarasenko has evolved into St. Louis' most productive forward. The 23-year-old is currently seventh in the league in points (41) and third in goals (22).

Not only does he provide All Star-caliber numbers; he's often worth the price of admission alone. A recent tally in New York -- in which he blew by four Rangers and masterfully deked around Cam Talbot -- is perhaps the highlight of the season thus far.

The term jaw-dropping play gets overused, but it fits in this case.

That mark came soon after Tarasenko was named the NHL's first star of the week, an honor earned by lighting the lamp five times in three games. Such accolades have brought a lot of positive attention his way.

"There's very few players that score like this in our game," Armstrong said about Tarasenko. "Now his test is, can he do it over time? That's what separates hot streaks from great players."

It will be a while before Armstrong's question can be answered definitively. However, based on the information we have at our disposal, there are many reasons to be optimistic about Tarasenko's long-term prospects.

For one, he drives possession well. No Blue has taken more even strength shot attempts in 2014-15. As of Monday, St. Louis is controlling 54.2 percent of play when he's on the ice and 49.4 percent when he's off. It helps that the Blues have impressive forward depth, which allows Tarasenko to receive favorable deployment while others -- namely T.J. Oshie and David Backes -- take on more defensive-minded roles.


All those offensive zone starts have given him plenty of chances to show off his one-timer, which has led to 10 of his 22 goals. What makes this skill so effective is not necessarily the velocity of the puck, but the speed in which he fires: Usually he'll windup half-way or less, depriving goalies precious seconds needed to get in position.

What stands out the most about his game, at least to me, is his wrist shot. With a sneaky, deceptive release, he regularly beats netminders who don't expect to be tested or don't anticipate attempts soon enough.

Though Tarasenko is not in the same class as Sidney Crosby, the two thrive with similar mechanics. The Score's Justin Bourne wrote a story on Crosby's release last October, and much of his analysis can be applied to Tarasenko, as well.

Said Bourne:

Shooters offer clues to goaltenders that it's trigger pullin' time. The top shoulder drops a few inches, the backs of the hands roll down, and the upper body adopts a slight lean. With that, the stick flexes. Those signals are like the green light that comes on at the batting cages before the ball spits out with that satisfying *shoop* sound. That's when goalies get set.

Crosby ... has cut that out of his shot presentation entirely.

Think about that as you watch the following two videos:

Here you don't see any of the aforementioned clues Bourne discussed. Tarasenko's hands don't drop down the stick. His top shoulder stays relatively balanced. He doesn't lean his upper-body down, but instead stays upright.

Only a select few players are this good, so even though Tarasenko's somewhat inflated 16.7 shooting percentage could drop, it wouldn't be surprising if he experienced little to no regression over the next four to five months. Between his shooting abilities and knack for authoring highlight-worthy maneuvers, he has the tools needed to score at a better clip than most.

And even if Tarasenko's shooting percentage does fall significantly, he should be OK if he keeps getting pucks on net. He's already taken 132 shots on goal this year in 39 games -- quite a jump from 2013-14, when he registered 136 SOG in 64 contests.

If, hypothetically, he were to generate shots at his 2014-15 rate over the course of a full year and convert just 12 percent of the time, he'd still finish with 33 goals.

The Blues undoubtedly have a special kid in Tarasenko, who may be the piece Armstrong and his predecessors lacked through their well-documented playoff failures. It'll be hard for the St. Louis to overcome its postseason demons this year, but with a true game-changer in tow -- one who excelled under the spotlight last spring -- the Blues should be in position to make some noise.