Tarasuk ready for Rangers

Roaming defencemen Steve Tarasuk looks to bat in rebounds. (Sun Media files)

Roaming defencemen Steve Tarasuk looks to bat in rebounds. (Sun Media files)

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Steve Tarasuk sported a Quebec Nordiques ball cap on his lid.

"Me and Phil McRae both picked one up," the London Knights defenceman said. "We thought they looked pretty cool."

A season ago, that could've smacked as a slick marketing ploy to try to wrangle more ice time out of head coach Dale Hunter, who got his NHL start in La Belle Province.

But Tarasuk is well beyond that.

He'll play the big blue-line minutes again tonight against his former OHL team at the old Aud in Kitchener. His Knights have a chance to pull even with the Rangers in the Midwest Division's first-place struggle.

"Absolutely, we feel like this group can do it (win the division)," the 20-year-old from Thornhill said. "We've seen flashes of what we can do whether it's on the penalty kill, power play or five-on-five. The problem has been we haven't done it as consistently as we want.

"I think a lot of it is guys gripping their sticks. Stop worrying that if you do something wrong, you're going to get taken off the power play or penalty kill. Just shoot the puck and get it on net."

And Tarasuk, the roaming D-man, will often be at the opposing crease batting away at rebounds. He leads London's defence in scoring and is taking the offensive chances reserved for John Carlson and Michael Del Zotto last season.

"I was asked to take a backseat last year with those guys here and play more as a defensive defenceman. Now in this role, I'm able to jump up (on offence) when I can but only if I can get back in the play because it's defence first."

The Knights have shipped a gaggle of guys to the NHL . Michael Del Zotto is on the New York Rangers power play. John Carlson played his first two NHL games for Washington against Montreal and Toronto.

John Tavares, Tarasuk's old Toronto Marlies midget mate, played against the Leafs last night.

Tarasuk and Co. took close notes.

"You watch those guys and Michael was always working on his body in his off-time to prepare himself for the next level," he said. "John Carlson, I know, went to Power Play (Dave Gagner's training facility) in the summer to improve his strength.

"Johnny (Tavares), he worked hard too, but he didn't really have to because he's got that gift of putting the puck in the net.

"I think we had a committed group in here before but for some younger guys on our team to be around to see those guys and what it takes to get to the NHL, that's huge."

The Knights will be short again in Kitchener tonight.

Leigh Salters, who scored a goal on his first shift in Oshawa, will sit out for trying to remove Victor Terreri's helmet during their early fight.

That move comes with an automatic one-game suspension.

Phil Varone is recovering from a shoulder injury. Dominic DeSando strained his groin.

Zac Rinaldo, though, is eligible to return after a three-game sitdown for punching Saginaw's Barry Sanderson.

Most of the Knights veterans didn't like the way they played in Kitchener a week-and-a-half ago.

With the way Windsor's rolling, only a legitimate shot at a division title will keep the Knights in trade deadline buyer's mode.

Kitchener is going to be strong again next season. They traded for Belleville's top scorer Matt Tipoff last week.

Guelph will be good, too, especially after landing University of Minnesota defenceman Sam Lofquist.

The Knights are unlikely to enter a Memorial Cup bid for 2011. Knights governor Trevor Whiffen said it's a "longshot."

"I think our (2008) bid raised the level of the others and there's something to be said for having a lot of cities involved in the process," Whiffen said. "But there's also realizing that other centres deserve their opportunity to host, too."

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: at Kitchener, 7 p.m.

Friday: vs. Sarnia, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Saturday: at Erie, 7 p.m.


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