September 09 2011 02:45PM
Last season, undrafted rookie Chris Tanev came out of nowhere, solidified himself as a stand-out on the blueline for the Manitoba Moose and ended up playing 34 games with the Canucks. He even appeared, and played quite well in the last two games of the Western Conference Final, and the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final. He played some quality hockey for the Canucks, and there are high hopes for his development among close observers of the team. PassittoBulis picked him as one of their three potential "break-out" players for this upcoming season, and I projected him as a possible contender to play a top-4 role.
The question is, can Tanev really produce at a top-4 rate in the NHL? It's taken as a matter of faith that Tanev possesses "plus" passing ability - but his production as a puck-mover hasn't been excellent at any level. Though he had a 30 assist season in the OJHL, and put up 28 points in 41 games with the Rochester Institute of Technology in the AHA in 09-10 - the competition in those leagues isn't exactly world-class (the AHA is a div. 1 NCAA league - but is significantly weaker than the WCHA). In 39 regular season games with the Moose, Tanev produced a goal and nine assists, he added another goal and three more assists in 14 playoff games. Those aren't big numbers.
Tanev may, ultimately be a fleet of foot, puck-moving, stay at home defenseman. It's not a role occupied by many in the NHL - but everything about Tanev's path to the NHL could be described as "uncommon". As David Feschuk wrote in a brilliant piece on Tanev, the young defender never seems to hit anyone. Also, he recently grew nearly a foot - but before that he'd basically quit playing junior hockey because he was too small.
Tanev tends not to need to hit anyone though - he relies on his speed, and intelligence to be effective. And effective he certainly is. In his 29 regulr season NHL appearances, Tanev started more often in the defensive-zone than the offensive-zone, yet finished well above water with a +1.95 Fenwick number per game, and a +2.49 Corsi per game and his balanced fenwick number per 60 minutes was +10.3. Pretty remarkable stuff for a previously undrafted rookie. What these numbers show us is that the Canucks dramatically out-shot and out-chanced their opposition when Chris Tanev was on the ice in the regular season, and that happened in the postseason as well.
But can Tanev's smart, possession driving play translate into points at the NHL level? If he plays with the Sedins - absolutely, but I really don't see Tanev developing into a 40 or even a 30 point guy. This is partly because, though Tanev's a quality puck-mover, his shot is anemic. His shot velocity is definitely the one glaring part of his game that requires some work. A more realistic expectation is for Tanev to win a spot in the top six on the opening day roster, put up 10-15 points, and continue to make the safe, smart plays that contribute to his team winning hockey games.