Welcome back to the NHL, Christopher Tanev
Enjoy the bag skate.
OK, so the Canucks' hour-long practice on Thursday wasn't quite that bad, but after apathetic starts led to two-straight losses that were followed by a day off, there was a lot of hard, conditioning skating and battle drills when the players returned to the rink.
None of which was enough to wipe the smile off Tanev's face, not after being called up from Chicago of the American Hockey League the night before and dropped into a top-four pairing with All-Star Game-bound Alexander Edler
"Got in last night for a tough practice today, but happy to be here," Tanev said with a sheepish grin.
It's a phrase Tanev repeated several times during a five-minute session with the media. The 22-year-old also admitted he was "a little" surprised to get called up to a Canucks team already carrying seven healthy defensemen. But with Sami Salo
still out because of a concussion after a low hit Jan. 7 from Boston's Brad Marchand
, they are short on defenders comfortable playing the right side -- hence the recall of the right-shot Tanev.
The inability to replace Salo on the right side of a second pairing with Edler has been a big part of the sloppy defensive zone coverage and turnovers in transition, leading to lopsided shot totals and grade-A scoring chances against.
"We felt bringing up a right-handed defensemen at this time would help our puck-moving ability," coach Alain Vigneault
said. "A lot of times, left-handed defensemen on the right side, it's tough to see the opening, the cross-ice seams, because you gotta turn and move. Some guys are comfortable doing it. Some guys have played the off side all their lives. Right now we're having trouble with our puck movement."
The departed Christian Ehrhoff
was a left-shot defensemen comfortable on the right side. But neither Keith Ballard
nor Aaron Rome
looked good on the right side of Edler, and Tanev played well enough on that side on a third pairing as a rookie last season to deserve a look.
"We need to get a little bit better chemistry there," Vigneault said. "I'm looking for a little better stability with the puck. … Chris is a solid puck mover with a lot of confidence and makes really good reads."
Tanev was just two years removed from tier-2 junior, and coming off one season of college hockey at the Rochester Institute of Technology when the Canucks signed him as a free agent in the summer of 2010. But he impressed enough in 29 regular season games last year to earn five more in the playoffs, including three in the Stanley Cup Final, demonstrating so much poise and patience with the puck that fellow defenseman Kevin Bieksa
once quipped that he could "play the game with a cigarette in his mouth."
Tanev struggled in three games to start this season, though, and with eight other NHL-proven defenders on the roster -- and a contract and games-played status that made him the only one that didn't require waivers -- was sent to the AHL to get more playing time and continue developing.
"I was a little disappointed, but you move on fairly quickly when you gotta play hockey the next day," said Tanev, who got hurt his first game with Chicago and missed a month. "Obviously I wanted to stay, but I'm happy to be here now and trying to take advantage of this opportunity."
Tanev has just a single assist in 32 NHL games, and had 12 assists but no goals in 25 AHL games this season despite increased special teams opportunities, so he won't replace Salo's 100-mile-an-hour point shot on the first unit power play. But he's also yet to take a penalty in the NHL, and has just 22 minutes in two AHL seasons, so Tanev may have the best chance to mimic the veteran's calm, steadying influence.
"Try to make smart plays and be a smart player and move the puck," Tanev said. "It's definitely more comfortable than last year. I'm not going to try and force things. There are enough guys in this room that know how to score. But if opportunity is there I want to contribute in that way.”
That opportunity may only exist for the two remaining games before the All-Star break, as Salo skated on his own for a second straight day Thursday. But if Tanev can help get the puck out of Vancouver's end as easily as he did late last season, there will be plenty more chances to impress, likely even this season and into the playoffs.
"One of our strongest assets is our transition, defense to offense," Vigneault said.
It's one of Tanev's strengths, too.