WINNIPEG - A new team, new league, and just three games to make an impact.
Brandon Tanev had a lot on his mind that day in the spring of 2016.
The undrafted winger was fresh out of college and signed a prorated one-year deal with the Jets, joining them in Anaheim to finish out the string on his first-ever NHL road trip.
He'll never forget that day, the moment he walked into the rink, saw the stall with his name and number on it for the first time and knew a lifelong dream was about to be realized.
But first, he needed some - shall we say - maintenance.
The ever-curious Dustin Byfuglien rifled through his black, banged-up gear bag and noticed a trend with this wide-eyed rookie.
As he does, the veteran spoke up.
"You only get one set of gear in college, so it was really beat up and my skates were bleeding rust everywhere," Tanev said over the phone from his off-season home in Toronto.
"He thought it was a mess, so he gave me a new nickname: Rusty. It stuck ever since."
Video: SIGNED | Brandon Tanev
Never has a player's nickname so closely resembled his playing style more than this blue-collar Tasmanian Devil on skates. In that moment, the speedy winger endeared himself to his new family. Three years later, he's back for another tour, with an eye on getting the Cup that escaped him and the team a few short months ago.
Tanev signed a one-year, $1.15M contract on Sunday, avoiding an arbitration hearing that was set for Jul. 25, and he couldn't be happier about being back.
"It's awesome. I'm so excited to get the deal done and to be back in Winnipeg for another year," Tanev said. "It's a very special group of guys and especially after last season, after the year we had, understanding where we went and what we still have left to accomplish, it's very special to be back for another year."
Tanev, 26, will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the deal.
The Toronto product split time with the Jets and Manitoba Moose in 2016-17, but earned a full-time role last year, scoring a career-high eight goals and 18 points, and leading the Jets with 144 hits, before adding another four goals and six points in 17 playoff games.
The highlight of it all? His first NHL hat trick. The roof nearly popped off that night in late March when the Jets beat the Boston Bruins 5-4 in a shootout, thanks to the No. 13's unlikely heroics.
"It was a blur," Tanev recalled. "I still can't believe it. I said at the time that I thought I blacked out. That honestly might have happened. What a night that was."
Video: BOS@WPG: Tanev tallies his first career hat trick
Over the course of the season, his confidence grew. He developed into an effective penalty killer on a unit that finished Top 10, fearlessly putting his body in harm's way to block a shot or deliver a hit on the forecheck.
Most of all, he often played on a line with either Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp or Joel Armia, and was responsible for shutting down the opponent's top lines.
"As the season went on, I got a lot more confident and there was more trust in the coaches and my teammates, and my linemates really helped me with that," Tanev said. "It basically being my second year and having the ability to understand where I need to be, game in and game out, and to play to my strengths, it helped me along the way. When you have a team that does so well, you have the opportunity to be confident and do what you want. When you have great players around you that make you better, it makes things that much easier."
Tanev - like the team finished just one series short of its first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final - is entering the 2018-19 campaign with more to prove.
And plenty more to offer.
Video: MIN@WPG, Gm5: Tanev steals the puck, pads Jets' lead
"You get that far and you want more," he said. "It was obviously a great season and one that we should all be proud of, but we're not satisfied. You get hungrier in the summertime. Especially with the group of guys we have with our team and everyone understands that we want to get to the next step. That's the taste you're left with in the off-season.
"It's a tougher game in the playoffs. We all know that now and are better because of the experience. You obviously play the full 82-game season and there's going to be some wear and tear on your body; injuries to a lot of guys… At the same time, there's so much adrenaline. Especially with the city we play in, our crowd, our fans, were unbelievable. The atmosphere in that building was very, very special.
"I have to raise my game even more to help the team. We're all going to have to raise our game to get to that next step, collectively."
If there's one thing Tanev isn't afraid of - besides stepping in front of a blistering slap shot - it's a little hard work and elbow grease.
You know, anything to get the rust out.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com