The short answer? Yes. Anyone who has watched the Blues at any point during the past two seasons will tell you that Tarasenko is one of the most fun players to watch right now. The goals he scores defy physics. So the eye test tells us "yes Tarasenko is going to be an elite goal scorer," but what do the stats say? After all, we really only have about two full seasons of Tarasenko so far with last season being his best to date. Is he capable of repeating last season? Can he sustain his goal scoring during this season and beyond?
First, who are the elite goal scorers in the NHL at the moment? I downloaded all the 5v5 scoring data for forwards who played in the NHL from the 2010-11 season through the 2014-15 season from War on Ice. I ranked these forwards by number of goals scored and then grouped the top ten goal scorers into a "top ten" group. I took the next ten goal scorers (11-20) and grouped them into a "next ten" group. I grouped the remainder into "everybody else" and of course Tarasenko remained separate from all those groups. I grouped the players together this way so we can take a look at the different characteristics of each set of goal scorers and compare those stats to Tarasenko's numbers. Are Tarasenko's numbers similar to the top ten goal scorers over the past 5 season?
The first tab in the dataviz below provides the answer. In the past 3 seasons Tarasenko has played in the NHL his shooting %, goals per 60 minutes of ice time, and shots per 60 track closely to those of the top 10 goal scorers from the past 5 seasons. In fact last season, Tarasenko was third in 5v5 goal scoring, scoring more goals than 8 of the top ten goal scorers from our 5 season sample. However, the one stat that Tarasenko lagged in was time on ice per game. This is due in part to Tarasenko being new to the league and he has spent some time away from the ice due to injury. But even with his limited ice time, he was still producing the shots and goals at 5v5 at a rate equivalent to the top ten goal scorers from the past five seasons.
When we look at Tarasenko's stats this season compared against these same top ten and next ten players, he exceeds all goal scorer groups. I would imagine that this is not going to be sustainable, however, it is easy to imagine that Tarasenko will finish the season in the top ten goal scorers if not the top five. If Tarasenko continues seeing the same ice time he has so far, and assume his shooting percentage drops just a tad to 11%, we can estimate that he will score another 17 goals at 5v5 for a total of 25 at the end of the season. This is the same number of goals that he scored last season and earned him 3rd place for 5v5 goals (behind Nash and Stamkos). Tarasenko (along with 10 other players) has scored 8 goals so far this season, and when sorting players by goals and then total points he is ranked 7th.
So is Tarasenko on track to be an elite NHL scorer? Absolutely. Barring any injury (no I do not believe in jinxes) or Hitchcock drastically reducing his ice time, we can expect Vladimir to score upwards of 25 goals this season putting him in the top ranks of 5v5 goal scorers in the NHL.