Vladimir Tarasenko isn’t the first young NHL player to leave the lineup with a concussion this season. He’s the latest – and it’s big-picture problem for the league, according to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.
Tarasenko was the recipient of a head shot delivered by Colorado’s Mark Olver in the third period of Wednesday’s 1-0 overtime loss to the Avalanche. On Friday, the Blues placed the rookie winger on the injured reserve list.
“He’s got a pretty severe facial laceration (and) some form of concussion,” Hitchcock said. “We really don’t know yet … the severity of it. He didn’t have a headache (Thursday), but he did have a headache (Friday). We’ll see in the next 48 hours how much better he gets.”
At a minimum, Tarasenko will miss tonight’s game against Columbus. With his placement on the seven-day IR being retroactive to Wednesday’s game, Tarasenko would be eligible to return Thursday against Chicago. But as the Blues know first-hand, it’s way too early to predict the absence of a concussed player.
In the meantime, the Blues will put Matt D’Agostini in Tarasenko’s spot in the lineup, and the club has called up forward Chris Porter from Peoria, where he had 10 points (seven goals, three assists) in 11 games.
Although Tarasenko’s point production had fallen off recently, it will be difficult to replace the NHL’s rookie of the month in January. He racked up 10 points in his first eight games in the league and still ranks third among rookies with 12 points.
But while learning how to score, Hitchcock said that Tarasenko, 22, is not unlike many young NHL players who are getting a hard lesson in on-ice awareness.
In fact, Colorado will get the reigning rookie of the year, Gabriel Landeskog, back in the lineup tonight in Los Angeles. He missed 11 games with a concussion after a heavy-duty hit by San Jose’s Brad Stuart.
“I think there’s a bigger picture for me here,” Hitchcock said. “It’s not so much Vladi, it’s all the young players … who are in unsuspecting situations. It just seems like there’s a lot of young players that are getting hurt because experienced players know where they can catch them in vulnerable situations.
“I wish there were a way that we could let the young guys play a little bit and not try to put them in unsuspecting (positions). I don’t think in a million years (Tarasenko) thought he would get hit in that situation.”
In Tarasenko’s case, Olver was not penalized on the hit, and the NHL’s Player Safety Department saw no evidence afterward that deemed it worthy of a suspension or fine. Neither was Stuart penalized in the Landeskog incident.
Rule 48.1 specifies that an illegal check to the head must show an intent to target the head, and the league said after its review that Olver did not demonstrate an intent.
“It’s a blow to the head,” he said. “I don’t care how it got there, whether it was a legit hockey play ... it was a blow to the head. I don’t give a damn about the rule. I’m just saying from a young player’s standpoint, those are the harsh lessons that young players end up having to learn.
“We talked to (Tarasenko) about it – that you’re in a position where I know you don’t expect to get hit here, but somebody’s going to hit you. I don’t really give a damn what the rule is … whatever happens, happens. But I feel for the young players (because) if you’re a good player, you get hit and that’s unfortunate because a lot of them are just trying to keep up with the pace of the game.”
The Blues had at least four players miss time with concussions last season, including Andy McDonald, who sat out 51 consecutive games. He hopes the league will outlaw all head shots, regardless of intent.
“You can still have a physical game, an intense game,” McDonald said. “But the players that are making hits, we’ve got to get away from going in and making contact with the head. Could (Olver) have hit Vladi and not hit his head? Probably and still been an effective hit. It’s too dangerous ... the health implications on those hits are too severe. It’s not worth it.
“Maybe there’s some type of wording you have to make every attempt to avoid contact to the head. Hopefully it’ll get to that one day and we won’t be seeing any more of that.”
Until then, there’s the old-fashioned way of handling it – dropping the gloves.
But Wednesday, with the game scoreless in the third period, the Blues chose not to retaliate against Olver, who is 5-foot-10, 170 pounds. There’s been much debate about whether the team missed its chance.
“That’s a tough question,” Blues forward Ryan Reaves said. “Third period, 0-0, it’s not a time where we can take a penalty for going after somebody who probably isn’t going to fight anyways. It’s not like (Olver) is one of their enforcers. I think really the only response at a time like that with a player like that is just making sure that he knows there’s footsteps every time he’s on the ice coming for him.
“I’m not saying forget about the hit. I’m saying if I lay that hit on somebody, (Colorado) has somebody who is going to come after me and I’m going to respond. Whereas a player like (Olver), he’s not going to respond to somebody coming after him.”