In many ways, Chris Tanev was found money for the Vancouver Canucks. You all know his story by now: undersized and playing in the OPJHL in his draft year, Tanev went undrafted, but was signed as a free agent by Mike Gillis out of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Tanev made the jump to the NHL in his first pro season, quickly cementing himself as a full-time NHL regular by the time he finished his sophomore NHL year.
Now 24, Tanev has become a key contributor to the Vancouver blueline, handling the toughest minutes of any Canucks defender last season under John Tortorella. He was re-signed to a one-year deal this past offseason and is surely looking to earn himself a nice long-term deal with the Canucks or elsewhere. Will he be able to keep improving on a solid 2013-2014? Read past the jump.
Chris Tanev spent last season primarily playing with Dan Hamhuis, comfortably within Vancouver’s top-2 defensive pairings. The undrafted blueliner set career highs in goals, assists, and points, as well as games played and ice time per game. Going further, Tanev solidified himself as a legitimately good tough minutes defender and top-end penalty killer last season too.
Tanev has never seen a heavily offensive deployment at any time in his NHL career – his highest offensive zone start rate has been 46.9% in 2012-2013 – and that pattern continued under John Tortorella. Tanev started just 44% of his non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone, which was the lowest rate among all Canucks defenders. Tanev also set a career high in quality of competition, and lead all Canucks defenders in QoC too.
It was a similar story on the penalty kill as well, as Tanev was among the top-10 defenders in the entire NHL at helping prevent shots on goal while shorthanded, but was 4th on the Canucks behind Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, and Dan Hamhuis. Part of this has to do with Tanev’s positioning and shot blocking abilities. Tanev doesn’t just block a lot of shots (he tied for the most shot blocks on the Canucks with 136 last season), but he appears to be good at it too. Since entering the NHL 4 years ago, Tanev has a career 52.4% Corsi and a 53.1% Fenwick, indicating that the Canucks are usually out-blocking opponents when Tanev is on the ice – which should also indicate fewer quality shots against and good scoring chance prevention.
All in all, Chris Tanev solidified himself as a bona-fide top-4 NHL defenseman last season, and at 24, hopefully has a long and fruitful Canucks career ahead of him. There aren’t really any guys in the system who may one day be as good as Tanev is right now, although it’s possible that guys like Frank Corrado or Ben Hutton to reach that level. And with signing a new RFA deal for just this season over the summer, Tanev likely wants another strong year under his belt for negotiating a hefty raise on his next deal.
It’s just two real games into the Willie Desjardins era, and already it looks like the new Canucks bench boss will give Tanev an opportunity to shine on offense that he hasn’t had before. Tanev has already seen powerplay reps with Henrik and Daniel Sedin on PP1, and has a powerplay assist to his credit – his first since 2010-2011 and second of his career. He is also on pace to shatter his previous career highs in PP TOI this year, as he’s only seen a total of 21:33 of ice time with the man advantage since he broke into the NHL. At this rate, Tanev will eclipse his career PP TOI within the first 9 or so games of the regular season.
Of course, offensive production is as much about opportunity as it is about ability, and with more opportunities afforded to him, Chris Tanev may be on the verge of a breakout season. Stylistically, it wouldn’t be too surprising either – we know Tanev is an extremely intelligent player who moves the puck exceptionally well for a guy with such paltry point totals, and it just seems like he has more to give at the offensive end of the rink.
Mind you, Tanev’s indirect contributions to out-scoring the opposition aren’t bad themselves. He has the second best goals for% of all Canucks defenders over the past 3 seasons, and the very best shots for% over the same time period. There’s a good argument to be made that Tanev, had he been drafted by the Canucks, would be Vancouver’s best pick from that year. Cody Hodgson finds himself toiling in Buffalo, Zack Kassian is still struggling to get ice time, and no one else from Vancouver’s ’08 draft is even in the AHL anymore.
Among the Canucks’ under-25 players, Tanev is probably the best NHLer right now. He projects to be a solid top-4 D this upcoming season, as well as well into the future. He’s on a one-year, $2 million deal and an RFA at the end of the year, but if he sees more than the 8 seconds of PP TOI per game he’s averaged over his career to date, he could be in line for a hefty pay raise come the summer.