Can Tanev Earn a Spot in the Top Six?

When TinFoilTuque wrote about the Canucks defensive depth – he saw fit to place impressive youngster Chris Tanev in the Canucks top-6. While Tanev has a chance at cracking the opening day roster – he was really good in the postseason, and he’s the sort of player Vigneault likes in that he’s responsible with the puck and makes high percentage plays – I figured a closer look was worthwhile. 

Toronto Star sports columnist Dave Feschuk wrote a wonderful piece about Tanev this weekend. On #18’s responsibility with the puck: 

[Tanev] drew praise for his newbie cool. Marvelled Kevin Bieksa, the Canucks veteran, during the Cup final: “He could play with a cigarette in his mouth.”

Said Nick Kypreos, the Sportsnet analyst and former NHLer: “The game is slower for him. Some kids, at 21, there’s a panic level. With him, he’s got a lot of poise.”

If Tanev won over the Canucks’ decision makers — and he’ll have to earn a spot on the team when the Canucks begin training camp next month — perhaps it’s because, despite picking up precisely one point in those 34 games, he has an uncanny knack for avoiding mistakes, specifically giveaways. So while his father acknowledges he “has never bodychecked anybody in his life,” Tanev is valued as a quick-footed puck mover, which means, in part, that he’ll take a hit from a forechecker to make a smart, patient pass.

Tanev’s ability to "avoid mistakes" is more than just an impression – the numbers bear it out as well. Looking over his underlying numbers at – it’s clear that Tanev moves the puck in the right direction, and does well to prevent chances against. Though he was somewhat sheltered in his 29 regular season games last year, the Canucks had over five shots for per sixty minutes more when he was on the ice, than against. His balanced fenwick number per sixty minutes, hovers at just about 31, which, is really, really good – especially for a blue-liner who spent much of his season with Ballard and Rome on the team’s third pairing.

His play in the Finals was a revelation, and I remain convinced that in game five he was especially good (even if the chance data doesn’t quite bear that impression out). One thing I noticed when watching the game live was how Vigneault deployed Tanev with Ehrhoff in the flow of the game at even-strength. Ostensibly, Tanev and Alberts were the third pairing in that game, but Vigneault clearly respects Tanev’s speed and puck-moving ability sufficiently to move him up the line-up when the situation calls for it. Against a slower team like the Bruins, playing Tanev with Ehrhoff at even-strength was a good matchup for the Canucks, and Vigneault went to it repeatedly, which, speaks to the esteem the coaching staff has for Tanev’s ability. If Glass hadn’t Bucknered that cross-ice feed Tanev sent him – #18’s performance in game 5 would be accompanied by an exclamation mark as well.

Moving forward the Canucks appear to be extremely deep on the blueline, but that’s a bit superficial if you think about it more critically. At defense the Canucks are in fact, not particularly deep on the right-side. Bieksa, Salo, Tanev are the teams top 3 right-side Dmen, so barring a switch from one of Edler or Ballard, I think it’s pretty reasonable to project Tanev as a top 6 regular to begin this season. Moreover, with Salo’s injury history it’s likely that the team will do what they can to restrict the minutes he plays next season. If that is the case, then Tanev’s opportunity to play major minutes next year is very much legitimate.

If Vigneault deploys Tanev similarly to what we saw in the Stanley Cup Final, I would be entirely unsurprised to see him skate with Edler a fair bit at even-strength. My thinking here is that if it’s a zone-start in either the defensive or offensive end – Salo would get the nod (because of his lethal slapper, and superior physical play) – but in the flow of the game, AV may deploy Edler-Tanev as a swift, skilled, puck moving duo. With how central puck movement is for the Canucks offense, this specialized EV-flow unit could well pay dividends. Based on what we’ve seen of Vigneault’s obsessive line-matching, it seems likely that Tanev will be deployed in this manner.

In terms of the depth chart, I see Tanev as occupying a non-traditional role as the teams fifth top four defenseman. So in answer to the question "can Tanev crack the team’s top-six?" I don’t just think he can, I think it may be his job to lose.