When you show up to watch an NHL game, you expect to see players that came from one of the three major junior leagues in Canada (OHL, QMJHL, or WHL) and you probably would expect to see former college players as well. Those are the typical paths for the North American hockey players; in the AHL, you usually expect to see players with similar backgrounds. Things are different outside of North America though, with European and Russian elite leagues. Sometimes, Russian and European players decide to come to North America to follow their hockey dreams. Rookie forward Daniil Tarasov did just that and is currently playing for the Worcester Sharks, the AHL affiliate of San Jose. The unusual part, he played in the IJHL.
Most of you had probably never heard of the International Junior Hockey League and won’t hear of it going forward. The IJHL was a tier III junior A hockey league in New England and the mid-Atlantic. Tarasov’s team was located on Cape Cod and he only played in 10 games, registering 6 goals and 6 assists. After that, he signed with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL and only dressed in 2 games for the rest of that season. Despite being in a relatively unknown league in a foreign country, the Moscow, Russia native has fond memories of his time early on in the US.
“For the first three or four months, it was really hard. But the guy that I lived was a really nice guy. He helped me a lot and would always point out when I said something wrong and how to say it right,” Tarasov said. “That was probably the biggest thing. Everyone was so nice to me, like the coaches too. It made it easier.”
Although Tarasov went scoreless in his two games with Waterloo, he started the 2010-2011 season with the Indiana Ice in the USHL and really took off. During his first season, he led the team in goals and was second in points. The next season he impressed even further, registering 47 goals and 41 assists in just 60 games. Right behind him in all scoring categories was Sean Kuraly. Kuraly was a member of the 2013 gold medal World Junior Championship US team. He is also a draft pick of the San Jose Sharks. So, it might not be surprising that the Worcester Sharks noticed Tarasov and signed him to his first pro contract, an AHL contract during the summer of 2012. Tarasov had been considering going back to Russia to play, but was excited for the opportunity.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s what I had been working so hard for,” Tarasov said of signing the contact. “The opportunity with the Sharks now is great and it seems like Coach trusts me so I’m just proving myself.”
At the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, it was apparent that Tarasov was struggling to adjust to the style of play in the AHL. He did not get to dress for the first nine games of the season, finally getting into the tenth game. Despite having had a lot of success in the USHL, Tarasov looked very unsure of himself. That lack of confidence resulted in him not getting to play in the next five games either. Then, towards the end of November, the Worcester Sharks sent Tarasov down to the ECHL to play for the San Francisco Bulls. It was a chance for him to improve and that’s exactly how he saw it.
“I just got my confidence back because I didn’t play in Worcester much in the beginning of the year and I didn’t really make the line-up,” Tarasov said. “But I got a lot of ice time down there and it helped my mindset. I worked really hard to get back.”
Instead of being depressed about being sent down, Tarasov embraced the opportunity to improve himself. He got back the speed that he had in the USHL. Beyond that, he also added a little bit of a physical edge to his game, even getting in a fight. It was something that had clearly been missing from his game before. Tarasov also notched 3 goals and 11 assists during his 17 games with the San Francisco Bulls. When the NHL announced the lockout was over and camps were opening, Tarasov got his chance to return to the AHL.
“I’ve been keeping my game simple and working hard. I’ve been trying to be good on the defensive side of the puck,” Tarasov said of his success this time around. “I hope my chance will come and when it does come, I have to bury the puck.”
Daniil Tarasov absolutely has not wasted his second chance in the AHL. There have been 18 games since the call-up and has 7 goals and 6 assists to show for it. This time around, Tarasov has really looked like an all-new player. He has become an incredibly valuable member of the Worcester Sharks. Although Tarasov has been held to just one assist in the last three games, his impact is undeniable. At the end of the year, the Sharks will have a decision to make as his contract was only for one year. If they are basing it on his play since his call-up, though, it should be clear that the twenty-one year old has been working hard.
“If you stop working, that’s when you might find yourself somewhere else,” Tarasov said of his teammates and himself. “You always have to work hard, be the first guy on the ice or the last guy off the ice. We’re always working after practice. That’s what helps us do well in games.”