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Tanev a quick study of the NHL game

This piece is currently featured in InFlight Magazine, the official game program of the Winnipeg Jets

by Ryan Dittrick @ryandittrick /

It's morning in downtown Boston.

The Jets, who had played, and lost, in Philadelphia the night before, were gathering for breakfast, followed by a team meeting before setting off on a day of rest and recovery.

A small sum went to the rink for a light skate, while others, like 24-year-old Brandon Tanev, who had the game of a lifetime in this town a short time ago, had already scoped out the gym, arriving on time in wrinkly garb, balled up from the plane ride the night before.

"How's it going?" he asked with a smile and a flurry of energy.

Me? I could barely see straight. It was the start of another demanding stretch, with games in three of the next five days and a raft of travel in between, but Tanev? He was ready for work.

He always is, because that is what got him here in the first place.

"I understand what kind of role I needed to play in order to make it to the next level and succeed," Tanev said. "I showed a bit of offensive talent at school, but at the same time at the next level, the pro level, you've really got to establish yourself in a certain role and go with that. I understand what that is now, and that's the way I approach every game, and every day in general."

Video: Byfuglien and Tanev take on the Stars

Tanev played in the Jets' final three games of the 2015-16 campaign after signing a one-year deal on Mar. 30. After showing well and earning the praise of Head Coach Paul Maurice, he returned home to Toronto for a busy summer of off-season training with former NHLer Gary Roberts, whose renowned 'High Performance Centre' in North York is the second home to Mark Scheifele, Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos and a host of others in the GTA.

"To step in, play those games and understand what the pro game is like, it gave me a good sense of what I needed to go home and work on over the summer and ultimately come to camp and push for a roster spot," he said.

"We were excited about what we saw (in those three games), but we understood it was at the end of the year and he was jacked up about the first part of his NHL career," Maurice added

"And then he came back faster, which we thought was hard to do."

That sort of one-on-one training time over the summer was invaluable to Tanev, a college grad who wasn't yet used to the grind of the NHL schedule.

"It's a lot different," he said with a laugh. "At school you're practicing Monday to Thursday and playing Friday, Saturday. Here, we're playing every other day, back-to-back sets… It's been an adjustment, for sure, with the schedule and how many game you play. But preparing for that in the summer time will lead you be ready for that throughout the season, and I feel I did that."

Undrafted, Tanev played one season in both the Ontario and British Columbia Junior Hockey Leagues before committing to Providence College of the NCAA's Hockey-East Division for the 2012-13 season.

"I thought it would be best for my development," he said of the decision to go to college. "For me to develop as a player over the four years and obviously to get an education out of it as well, it was just the right decision. Having the opportunity to play four years at a great college, mature and get physically stronger for the next level, that's huge. What kid wouldn't want that?"

Over the next four years, he recorded 35 goals and 77 points in 149 games, but one moment stands out among the rest.

Tanev scored the game-winning goal in the 2015 NCAA Championship Final at TD Garden, giving the Friars their first-ever Frozen Four title, a dramatic 4-3 decision over Jack Eichel and the Boston University Terriers.

A year and a half later, he was about to play his first NHL game in that very same facility.

"It's pretty cool," Tanev said. "Playing around here and that building a few times, I never imagined it could come full circle, so quickly."

Tanev, a marketing major, signed just a few days after Providence's 2015-16 season came to an end, and then re-upped for another two in the summertime.

"I'm so happy I chose Winnipeg," he said. "The fans are unbelievable and we're a team on the rise. It's so much fun coming to work every day in a hockey-mad city, knowing you have a chance to win each and every night."  

Tanev, who is the younger brother of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris, scored his first two NHL goals in a 5-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 4 at Joe Louis Arena. Both were the product of the game we've become so accustomed to seeing from No. 13 over past few months: He tied the game with his first - a beauty - that found the very top shelf, then buried one in almost the exact same spot as he raced in alone just a few minutes later.

Video: WPG@DET: Tanev nets go-ahead goal on a breakaway

Speed, skill and a relentless work ethic: That's Brandon Tanev, shift in and shift out.

"There's been no (learning) curve for him on picking up the systems," Maurice said. "He's rarely, if ever, out of position and he has the speed to make up for other peoples' mistakes. … The quickness and the good stick and the positioning are all strong. He gets to where he needs to get to. He can force pucks very quickly on the opportunities that he has, but he's not running around out of position to do it.

"He just picks up the team with his pace, with his speed. … Those guys are so important to your team. They're energy guys, grinders, hard workers. To get two in such an important game, it's a good payoff for him. I hope he takes all the confidence in the world from it that he can make those plays."

Indeed, it's his ability to understand, comprehend, read and react to the pace of the NHL game that has helped make the rookie's transition appear so seamless. It's a balance of speed and raw talent, and professional acumen only few possess.

"The speed and skill of the guys you're playing with and against is on another level," Tanev said. "Your decision making has to be quick, and with the speed being what it is, there's no holding on to the puck for long periods of time. It's on your stick and it's off your stick just as quickly, and if you can't process and make a play that short period of time, you're going to get burned."

He's a quick study, this one.

Just like in Providence.

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