ANAHEIM, California -- Brandon Tanev will become the seventh player to make his NHL debut wearing a Winnipeg Jets jersey this season when the Jets open a three-game road trip at Honda Center against the Anaheim Ducks.
The 24-year-old Tanev signed a one-year, two-way contract with the team on Mar. 30, after his NCAA season in Providence came to an end. The forward skated on a line with Adam Lowry and Chris Thorburn at today’s pre-game skate.
“It’s an exciting time. The opportunity to play in my first National Hockey League game is something I’ve dreamed about for a long time,” he said. “I’ll try to keep it as any other game. Obviously there are going to be some nerves, some jitters, first NHL game, but just kind of soak in the moment, be excited to be out there, and enjoy the opportunity.”
Tanev helped the Providence Friars to an NCAA championship last season, and put up 28 points in 38 games in 2015-2016. Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he likes Tanev’s quickness, and added he may see time on the penalty kill. But first and foremost, he wants the rookie to enjoy every moment of tonight’s game.
“We’re looking forward to seeing him… He’s a little older so a lot of the amateur is out of his game,” said Maurice. “He’s on the puck, there’s very little looping. It’s straight lines and quickness. He gets there fast, and he doesn’t have a problem staying on the puck.”
It won’t be an easy debut by any means. Powered by a 22-6-3 record since the start of February, the Ducks sit at the top of the Pacific Division standings, and have the league’s best power play (23.2 percent) and penalty kill (86.9 percent).
Veteran Chris Thorburn says the Jets can’t let those numbers deter the team from playing aggressively five-on-five.
“Our special teams have gotten better, especially recently, so there’s some confidence there. But at the same time we know how powerful they are as a line-up,” said Thorburn. “We’re going to try and play aggressive hockey, but keep our discipline and stay out of the box, because we know how dangerous they can be.”
Overall, Winnipeg is 9-8-1 against the Pacific, and are coming off two games at MTS Centre that saw them take three of a possible four points from Chicago (5-4 overtime loss) and Minnesota (5-1 win).
“Our pace, our effort, we’re just putting everything out there. There’ s not much time left, there’s nothing to save it for,” said Thorburn. “Over the course of the last little bit we’ve been focusing on our game. There are some areas we needed to clean up and areas we needed to improve in.
“It’s just more about us and how we’re coming out, holding each other accountable, and the effort we provide every night. It allows us to battle how we should every night. It doesn’t depend on who the opponent is.”
That’s a good mentality to have, as the Jets prepare for a California road trip with opponents that sit in the top three Pacific Division spots.
“It’s actually in some ways easier to prepare, because it will be a structured game,” said Maurice. “(Anaheim is) really focused on being a strong defensive team. (They have) an awful lot of speed, and they can open you up like they did against Calgary the other night. But they’re going to play the game the right way, which is good because you can assess your players against that then. “
With his debut coming against a Pacific Division team, it was only fitting that Tanev was able to rely on a veteran of that division: his brother Chris, who has played 292 games with the Vancouver Canucks.
“I’ve been texting back and forth with him,” said Tanev. “He’s just been saying enjoy the moment, you only get one of these. Go out there and do your job.”
Tanev and the Jets clock in when the puck drops at 9 pm CT.