Call 2017-18 a weak season for Vladimir Tarasenko.
After all, he scored “just” 33 goals, his fewest since 2013-14. His string of three straight All-Star Game appearances ended. Plus, his St. Louis Blues failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11 — two seasons before his NHL debut.
But the 2018-19 NHL season is upon us and “weak” and “Vladimir Tarasenko” do not really belong in the same sentence. The 26-year-old Russian’s strength is legendary. So is his stick.
Speaking of That Stick…
Tarasenko wields aCCM Ribcor Reckoner with an 85 flex.
Flex is an individual thing. A rule of thumb suggests you should use a flex (the amount of force in pounds required to bend a shaft 1 inch) equal to half your body weight. Tarasenko is listed at 219 pounds, but flexes in excess of 100 pounds (the bigger the number, the stiffer the shaft) are rare. For reference points, it is believed that Boston’s Zdeno Chara (6-9, 250) uses the stiffest shaft in the league at 130; while Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (5-9, 157) has an exceptionally whippy 55-flex. Typical NHL flexes range between 85 and 100.
The Reckoner is not the newest stick in the CCM line. It debuted in 2015, during a period of sweeping change in CCM’s stick roster. The Ribcor line was always designed for feel and quick release. The Reckoner’s innovations included a concaved shaft replacing the ribbed (putting the “rib” in “Ribcor”) design. Its shaft design, meant to optimize energy transfer, was branded “Pop Matrix Technology.” Like the Ribcor models that preceded it, the Reckoner has a low kick point (the spot where the shaft flexes).
Another Reckoner feature is CCM’s Ascent Blade. It is lighter than its predecessors and, from heel to toe, changes in stiffness. At the heel, it is softer, better to receive passes. The extra-stiff toe enhances a quick release and provides control in traffic.
The Reckoner has helped a famously strong player to prodigious scoring feats.
From 2014 through last season, Tarasenko led the NHL in even-strength goals with 114, seven more than Alex Ovechkin, and was second to the Capitals’ star in overall goals during that period.
Listed at an even 6 feet tall, Tarasenko has rare mass in a league where most of the players in his weight class tend to be 2 or 3 inches taller.
His father, former Russian league MVP Andrei Tarasenko, coached young Vladimir in Russia with an eye toward building on his son’s physical gifts.
“His dad coached him every day,” Toronto defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, a former Tarasenko teammate, said in an interview with the Athletic. “Always, after the practice, they were doing something (extra to build strength). He’s a hardworking guy… He’s a huge guy.”
His current teammates further extolled Tarasenko’s attributes.
“He’s got big guys coming after him and he can force them off almost with one hand,” Blues defenseman Colton Parayko told the Athletic. “The strength he has with one arm and one hand on the stick is so impressive. It’s really tough to defend.”
“His center of gravity and the way he can stand over a puck is second to none,” Robert Bortuzzo, another Blues defender, added. “You’ll very rarely see him get caught with a hit. When he does, it’s almost like the defender bounces off him … I’m sure a lot of his shot is from the power he develops from his lower half.”
Tarasenko using a stick that has been around so long is interesting. By overall player use, there are 16 more-popular sticks in the NHL. Only 10 players used the Reckoner in 2017-18. But, of those players, five (Tarasenko, Sidney Crosby, Reilly Smith, Patric Hornqvist and Micheal Ferland) scored at least 20 goals. Maybe there’s something to be said for sticking with what works.
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.