Stepping Into The Breach: Chris Tanev

The defence corps of the Vancouver Canucks has started to resemble the participants of a death march over the past few weeks. Alex Edler’s injury triggered some sort of bizarre cascade effect, as in the three weeks since Lea Sweatt, Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis and finally Andrew Alberts have all fallen by the wayside. All it would take now to completely decimate the Vancouver blueline now would be injuries to Bieksa and Ehrhoff, along with a stiff breeze hitting Sami Salo.

While the injury list has been mostly bad news for Vancouver, it has had one positive affect: uncovering Chris Tanev as an NHL defenceman.

To say Tanev has come out of nowhere is an understatement. Even in the United States, with a less pervasive junior system, it’s a rare thing for a high school hockey player to make the NHL. In Canada it’s virtually unheard of. But a growth spurt was followed by improved performance, and that was enough to get some U.S. college teams interested in Tanev. The Rochester Institute of Technology offered him a financial aid package, and so Tanev joined their team. R.I.T. had a great run last season, and Tanev was a big part of it, recording 28 points in 41 games as the team’s youngest regular. That was enough to catch the eye of a few NHL teams. Via the Vancouver Sun’s Iain MacIntyre:

Eventually, the San Jose Sharks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators also offered contracts, but he chose the Canucks because he knows and trusts Vancouver player-development guru Dave Gagner, whose son Sam skated with Tanev.

It wasn’t immediately apparent that this particular signing was going to pay off for Vancouver. Tanev played in eight games in October, managed two measly shots and went minus-4 while picking up four minor penalties. After Halloween, though, his play improved. He went plus-9 over his next 30 AHL games, added nine points and remarkably took just four more minor penalties – an incredibly disciplined pace for any player, but especially so for a defenceman. Thus, in mid-January he was well positioned for a recall when injuries started to hit the Canucks back end.

Poise is perhaps the word that best describes Tanev’s first stint in the major leagues. He’s started just 36 shifts in the offensive zone, as compared to 49 in his own end; despite that the Canucks have been outshooting their opponents by roughly five shots an hour when he’s on the ice. He’s taken no penalties. The Canucks have averaged just 1.56 goals against for every 60 minutes he’s played – the lowest number on the team.

Suddenly, a kid who was never drafted and two years ago was barely even on the college radar looks like a legitimate NHL prospect.