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Tarasenko already feeling right at home with Florida, because it is home

Ottawa Senators right wing Vladimir Tarasenko celebrates after his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second-period NHL hockey game action in Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Vladimir Tarasenko was born and raised in Russia, and has spent his NHL career playing in St. Louis, New York and Ottawa.

Now he's home — in Florida.

Tarasenko's wife and children have made South Florida their full-time home for the last year or so, which is one of many reasons why the veteran winger and Stanley Cup champion jumped at the chance to join the Panthers. Florida swung a trade with Ottawa on Wednesday for Tarasenko, sending two draft picks to the Senators.

“We usually spend the summers, but this year we decided they'll stay here, the kids will play hockey and get in school,” Tarasenko said. “And get some sun.”

He came to get some wins, too.

Tarasenko is leaving an Ottawa team that was well outside of the playoff race for a Florida team that has the best record in the NHL. He went through morning skate with his new club on Thursday for the first time and coach Paul Maurice had him in the lineup for Thursday's game against Philadelphia — on a line with Aleksander Barkov and 45-goal scorer Sam Reinhart.

Tarasenko has relationships already with plenty of Panthers. Among his ties: he's close friends with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, played in St. Louis with defenseman Niko Mikkola and has worked out in the summers with forward Matthew Tkachuk.

“We feel the strength of this group is that idea of the group, the togetherness,” Maurice said. “So, when you bring somebody in, you're always mindful of that. We spent a lot of time talking about how we think he'll fit in the room.”

Barkov, the Panthers' captain, said it didn't take any time at all for the team to welcome another big-time scorer — 17 goals this season, 287 for his career — into the room, knowing that he makes the team with the best record in the NHL to this point even more talented.

“Obviously, bringing him in is huge for us,” Barkov said. “He's another player who can score goals, who can make plays, who's very skilled, works hard. That's exciting.”

Tarasenko had a full no-trade clause as part of his $5 million, one-year contract with Ottawa, allowing him to choose his preferred destination. He only wanted Florida, he said.

He recalled summertime workouts where players like Bobrovsky and Mikkola would essentially recruit him.

“They were always joking to me to come join them,” Tarasenko said. “It finally happened.”

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl