They are often intimidated and easily excitable. Pressured by NHL forwards who arrive a half second sooner than they do in the minors, they make rookie mistakes and can soon find themselves on the end of the bench.
But some don’t fit the mould. They possess poise beyond their years and an air of calmness that defies logic.
Such is the case with Chris Tanev.
His ascension to the pros, after an early minor league career that saw no notoriety, his limited size, forcing most scouts to conclude he’d never make it, is remarkable.
After one season with the unheralded Rochester Institute of Technology, a school that, in the 50 year history of their hockey program, had yet to produce a single NHL player, Chris Tanev signed with the Canucks.
At the onset of training camp, most assumed Tanev to be the rawest prospect in the Canucks cupboard, a player in need of seasoning in the minors before challenging for a spot with the Canucks.
Tanev is now a month into his NHL career. His game, stripped of all complication, has become a calming presence on a blueline run ragged with injuries. He continues to make the safe play, getting the puck off his stick and on to any one of the bevy of talented forwards up front. Yet, Tanev, whose humble personality is an extension of the way he plays, only credits those around him.
“I’ve surprised myself a little bit, the game is so controlled and it’s easier than I thought playing with players like the Sedins and all the other defenseman,” said Tanev. It’s easier than you think because these guys are so skilled and smart that makes your job a lot easier.”
Tanev’s success can, in part, be attributed to the organizational modularity implemented by Mike Gillis and his staff. The team’s philosophy and structure is omnipresent , easing the transition for young players through each level of their development.
“We play the same way in Manitoba, and that’s helped me a lot,” said Tanev. “In the NHL, the puck moves a lot faster, even though it’s a more controlled game it’s still a lot faster, but playing a similar style makes it easier.”
Tanev is the latest benefactor of a meritocratic system that rewards players based on their recent success. Work hard and play well, and you will get your shot. Get a taste of the pros to whet the appetite then take that desire into the offseason and train harder than you ever have. It’s a philosophy that fosters competition, imposing a strong work ethic in young players at an important stage in their development.
“This experience has motivated me more to become a regular NHLer, you get a little time here and you want to be here for the rest of your career, I know how hard I have to work”, said Tanev.
As the Canucks skate down the stretch and the injuries on defense continue to mount, the team’s dependence on the young defenseman increases. With three more Canucks regulars out for an extended period, Tanev will continue to bear the weight of a heavy workload a little while longer, but he remains unfazed.
“It’s just my personality, I’m calm. Everyone in this dressing room is a leader and I just try to take in as much as I can and learn as much as possible. They’ve all helped me throughout the way.”