MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — Vladimir Tarasenko could make his season debut for the St. Louis Blues during their upcoming six-game road trip.
The forward, who had surgery on his left shoulder for the third time Sept. 17, won’t play Saturday at the San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCA, FS-MW, NHL.TV) but is expected to return to the lineup before the trip ends March 8, also in San Jose.
“Yeah, there’s a good chance, I would say so, yeah,” Blues coach Craig Berube said Friday.
Tarasenko hasn’t played a regular-season game since dislocating the shoulder Oct. 24, 2019 against the Los Angeles Kings and having surgery three days later. He returned and played in four games last postseason before being shut down after Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round against the Vancouver Canucks on Aug. 14. He first dislocated the shoulder April 7, 2018 against the Colorado Avalanche.
The 29-year-old was a full participant in practice Friday and took part in a contract drill, which is one of the final steps of his recovery. He skated on a line with Brayden Schenn and David Perron.
“I put him on a line today because he is getting close and wanted him to go with a line and see how he looks and get some reps there,” Berube said. “He’s definitely itching and ready to go too. It’s been a while for him and a long road. He’s done a real good job of conditioning and doing what he had to do to be in shape and rehab everything. The credit goes to him, the training staff and our hockey team.”
Tarasenko scored 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games last season, ending a streak of five consecutive seasons when he scored at least 30 goals.
His return could provide a boost for the Blues (10-8-2), who have lost three straight games and four of their past five. They’ve scored eight goals in that stretch.
“Any time you can get a world-class player back in your lineup, we get excited,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “He’s a big part of our team, he has been for a long, long time here. World-class skill and talent and ability to put the puck in the net. It’s an excited group to have him back.”
Berube said Tarasenko needs to be comfortable with contact before he can return to the lineup. Tarasenko did not speak to the media Friday.
“I try to talk to him all the time when I see him,” Berube said. “I don’t always ask him about that situation, but that contact stuff is really important because you can skate all you want and your conditioning will be good, but it’s really the battling, the contact and all that stuff that really wears on you when you’ve been out this long. Also, it’s for his shoulder too, but the conditioning side of things, that’s hard to do in practice. When you’re in a game, it’s totally different, so it’ll be important we do a lot of that stuff with him before he plays.”
The Blues are also without injured forwards Jaden Schwartz (lower body), Tyler Bozak (upper body), Ivan Barbashev (ankle) and Robert Thomas (thumb); and defensemen Colton Parayko (undisclosed) and Carl Gunnarsson (knee).
“Any time you can get a player like that back, it’s huge for the team,” forward Zach Sanford said, “especially with where we’re at right now. Getting a player of his caliber back is good for the spirits and hopefully helping us get going here and score some goals.”