The St. Louis Blues selected David Rundblad with the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. While maybe a bit confusing of a pick at the time, it wasn’t completely outlandish. Rundblad was seen as a smooth, two-way defenseman that could bless the Blues defense in just a few years. His breaking into the SHL (then the SEL) the year before the Draft really solidified this. At only 18-years-old, Rundblad was a lock in Sweden’s top league.
Headed into the ‘09 Draft, he ranked sixth among European skaters on the Central Scouting Services’ Final Rankings. But even with his spot in the SHL and his high-ranking in the Draft, doubts surrounded Rundblad. He had only scored 10 points, all assists, in 45 games in the 2008-09 season; far from the talent many had hoped for.
With the doubt around him, the Blues made sure to keep a close eye on his 2009-10 SHL season. And when he only managed 12 points in 47 games, they decided to cut their losses and flip him in the 2010 Draft.
Thankfully, some teams were still taking the over on Rundblad and on Draft Day in 2010, the Blues were able to swap Rundblad for the 16th overall pick; sending him to the Ottawa Senators in a one-for-one deal. The Blues would go on to select high-potential Russian winger Vladimir Tarasenko with the acquired pick. It was the second-to-last trade that 13-year general manager Larry Pleau made: swapping Rundblad for Tarasenko.
10 Years Later, Larry Pleau Remains a Genius
Obviously, the deal has ended up an absolute steal. David Rundblad only appeared in 113 NHL games (only 24 for Ottawa) and only scored 25 points before being ostracized to European play. Meanwhile, Tarasenko has established himself as one of the league’s greatest offensive threats.
Just How Bad was Rundblad?
Thankfully, Rundblad played after the introduction of advanced stats. That means his failure of an NHL career can statistically be compared to the incredible career of Tarasenko. Obviously, his lack of goals, assists, and points creates an argument in-and-of itself. Rundblad never managed more than five goals or 15 points in his career.
But his advanced stats only back this. In a era of hockey where a 2.4 is considered average in both xGF/60 and xGA/60, Rundblad’s was below par; netting a 2.37 and 2.49 in each category respectively. Nearly every other on-ice stat of his ranked around league-average.
His above-replacement stats are what truly break down how poor his career was. In terms of goals-above-replacement (GAR), Rundblad ranked in the nine percentile, combined through his career. His xGAR makes things a bit more admirable but still only places Rundblad among the 48 percentile. Among defensemen, these rankings change to the 13 percentile and 55 percentile respectively.
Ultimately, Rundblad was an average-at-best defenseman who got a bit unlucky and fell to the bottom of the league because of it. But his bad luck peaked in a performance that was only once above-replacement-level in WAR or GAR.
Just How Good was Tarasenko?
Rundblad was a below-replacement-level defenseman, even if his potential was a little higher. Tarasenko, on the other hand, has become a truly elite player. He’s netted a dazzling 428 points through 507 NHL games in the last six years, neatly split between 214 goals and 214 assists.
His GF/60 and GA/60 are similarly incredible, with Tarasenko tallying a 2.94 and 1.96 respectively, combined throughout his career. While his xGF/60 and xGA/60 are a bit more down-to-Earth (2.68/2.12), the discrepancy comes from Tarasenko’s high shooting totals and usage on defense. His career SF/60 ranks 58th among the 1,368 players to play in the advanced stats-era (minimum of 1,000 TOI), while his SA/60 ranks 1,159th; still ahead of Jaromir Jagr and Pavel Datsyuk.
These numbers help show Tarasenko’s usage while on the ice: get the puck, shoot the puck, repeat. And it’s a role that’s done him very, very well. Since joining the league in 2013, Tarasenko ranks in the 99 percentile in GAR, ahead of players like Connor McDavid, Claude Giroux, Joe Thornton, Evgeni Malkin... and, well, pretty much the entire league. In fact, only 10 players rank above Tarasenko, nine excluding defensemen. In terms of xGAR, though, well... Tarasenko ranks second in the entire league behind only Sidney Crobsy. He’s second among over 1,500 players to play in that time. The Blues’ Russian phenom sits at the 99.9 percentile in that category, with only his even-strength defense bringing him down.
This has mounted Tarasenko becoming one of the best players in the league. He’s been firmly sat in the ‘elite’ category in terms of GAR and WAR in each season of his career, save for his rookie season (where he only played 38 games) and this year (where he only played 10).
There’s not much more to say about the trade that occurred 10 years ago today. Larry Pleau made one of the last moves of his GM role one of his best. He swapped out a player that would go on to consistently under-achieve for one of the best goal scorers in the NHL.
Tarasenko is a true star in the league, statistically in the same conversation as players like Crosby and Ovechkin - at least since 2013. His absence in the 2019-20 season was truly heartbreaking for the Blues lineup but all signs point towards the winger returning without missing a beat next year, continuing to emphasize how incredible this deal truly was.