Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev has been called up from the AHL to play against the Maple Leafs on Saturday, but the move has nothing to do with Keith Ballard’s head injury or Kevin Bieksa’s surprise day off the ice Friday.
With Bieksa expected to play despite limping slightly off the ice during what his coach called a “maintenance day,” Tanev’s recall is more about assessing the 22-year-old’s ability to fill a long-term hole on the right side of the defense than filling any immediate gaps on a team already carrying two spare defenders.
“It’s another opportunity for us here with the trade deadline nearing to continue to evaluate some of our personnel,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Obviously the two points are very important but we’re still trying to sort different aspects of our team, where the pieces might fit in, and Chris is somebody that’s on our radar.”
Tanev wasn’t on anybody’s radar three years ago. Since then he’s gone from Tier-2 Junior in his native Toronto, to one year of NCAA hockey, to playing Game 7 in last summer’s Stanley Cup Final after signing with the Canucks as an undrafted free agent out of college.
He showed remarkable poise as a rookie, but was sent down after three games this season, in part to play more after some early stumbles and in part because he was the only one of nine defenders that didn't require waivers. He’s been up for only one game since, filling in for Sami Salo in January after the others defensemen struggled to shift to the right side.
Now he’s back for a longer look. With Ballard not ready to travel, the plan is to take Tanev on a six-game road trip that starts Sunday in Edmonton, and use the time to determine if he’s ready to fill the biggest depth hole Vancouver has left before the impending Feb. 27 trade deadline: right-side defensemen.
Tanev doesn’t have much to say about such implications, but it’s safe to assume a player Bieksa once said could play the game with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, isn’t phased by much. His third-pairing partner for Saturday, Aaron Rome, says that's part of what makes it so easy to line up alongside Tanev.
“We joke with him that he’s sleeping out there, but it’s like he’s playing the game in a rocking chair,” Rome told NHL.com. “It comes so easy to him, just his body language and everything. It’s great to see, especially for a young guy. I was actually thinking about it today in practice how easy he is play with. He moves well out there, he’s good with positioning. Maybe he’s not the flashiest guy but he’s patient, and maybe he’s not the biggest, most physical guy, but he closes quick on guys, he gets the puck away and he’s really easy to read off.”
The Canucks hope Tanev makes it easier to read their needs before the Feb. 27 deadline.