After Russian president Vladimir Putin put the gold medals around the necks of Team Canada following the squad’s clinical 2-0 shutout win over Finland at the World Championship in Moscow on May 22, Connor McDavid was asked if his group of teammates included an unsung hero, who may not have earned as much praise as he deserved.
“It’s tough to single one out,” said McDavid, whose only goal of the tournament proved to be the gold-medal winner. “I think one that comes to mind is Chris Tanev. He was unbelievable defensively and all over the ice. It was the whole group effort. We had 23 guys who were just amazing.”
Once the Canadian players got back on home soil, others also sang Tanev’s praises in their local radio interviews.
“I was flying back with (Tanev’s defence partner) Morgan Rielly and we were talking about just how good of a player he is,” Montreal Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher told TSN1040 in Vancouver. “He was so consistent for us night after night.”
“On defense, I was pretty impressed with Tanev,” two-way demon Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators concurred. “You look at his numbers, I think he gets 20-25 points a year, but he does a lot of things that help your team win. He was probably our most steady defenceman from a defensive perspective all tournament.”
Considering that Gallagher suits up with 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban when he’s doing his day job with the Habs and Stone’s Senators teammate is two-time Norris champ Erik Karlsson, this pair knows a thing or two about high-end blueliners. It seems that Tanev stood out to them thanks to his smart, reliable play—perhaps in contrast to the high-risk, high-reward styles that we see in the NHL from both Subban and Karlsson.
Throughout the World Championship, Tanev and Rielly formed Canada’s top defensive pair. They did great work as the team limited its opposition to just 11 goals scored in 10 games.
Tanev was also a regular on the tournament’s best penalty-killing unit. Canada surrendered just two power-play goals in 29 shorthanded situations for a 93.10 percent efficiency rating.
Canucks fans have watched Tanev deploy his steadily-reliable style on the ice for the last six seasons. He’s now a fixture on the team’s top pairing with Alex Edler, locked up for another four years at a reasonable cap hit of $4.45 million per season, per General Fanager.
The World Championship was the first time ever that the undrafted Tanev, a native of Toronto, was given a chance to play for his country. At 26, he was the oldest member of the Canadian blue line, but he earned coach Bill Peters’ trust and played a leadership role ahead of six highly-touted first-round draft picks.
Ryan Ellis, Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly, Matt Dumba and Cody Ceci were all picked in the top 15 in their respective draft years and have extensive international hockey experience from U18s and World Juniors. Rielly, 22, and Ellis, 25, have even played at a previous World Championship, in Belarus in 2014.
On the young Canadian blue line in Russia, only Michael Matheson, Ben Hutton and Tanev came in as greenhorns.
True to his laid-back reputation, Tanev had no trouble adjusting to the larger ice surface of international hockey. “It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a bit different, but it’s definitely fun.
“There’s a lot of room out there, especially in the end zones. You can get the cycle for a long period of time—that’s a little different from back home.”
When asked about being a leader on the Canadian blueline, Tanev demurred. “There’s enough guys here who have won a lot for Canada,” he said. ”Those guys are definitely the leaders. I’m just trying to watch what they do and learn how they lead.”
As for his impression of Team Canada head coach Bill Peters? “He’s very intense,” Tanev said midway through the tournament, after the Canadians had amassed a perfect 5-0 record. “We’re very detailed, very structure oriented, and that’s why we’ve done so well so far.”
In 10 games, Tanev finished the tournament with just one assist and nine shots on goal—pretty typical of the defensively responsible but decidedly non-threatening player we’ve come to know in Vancouver.
The World Championship experience may have inspired Tanev to add more tools to his toolbox this summer.
Tanev wants to improve his shot this summer and has hired a shooting specialist, he’s never done that before. #Canucks
— NEWS 1130 Sports (@NEWS1130Sports) May 25, 2016
The Canucks can definitely use more offense from the blue line next season. It would be great to see Tanev eclipse his career-best 20 points in 2016-17.