Moving from Switzerland to Canada was a comfortable experience for Tanner Richard last year.
Since he was a baby, the Richard family spent most summers in Sarnia, Ontario – not far from Markham where he was born. He got used to the language, accustomed to the climate, and made friendships.
It seemed natural when Richard, the son for former NHL player Mike Richard, traded in his Rapperswil jersey in the Swiss League for a spot on the Guelph roster in the Ontario Hockey League last fall. Passed over in his first year eligible for the NHL draft, Richard was going after his dream.
“Everybody wants to play in the NHL,” Richard, 19, said at Lightning Development Camp Tuesday. “Coming to Canada gives you more exposure, you can learn from better players, bigger names, get more practice time and games. You just develop as a player.
“I’m thankful for the experiences I had. When I look back on it, it definitely made my transition a lot easier.”
Richard, who has played for Switzerland at the Under-18 and Under-20 world championships, took full advantage this season at Guelph. He put up 48 points in 43 games, playing in all situations for former NHL player Scott Walker, and compiled five points in six playoff games.
The Lightning selected Richard in the third round – 71st overall – at the draft on June 20 for his versatility.
“From the start of the year and through the second half his game really took off,” Lightning Director of Amateur Scouting Al Murray said. “He got comfortable, his coach understood how good he could be and everything went right.
Richard earned respect amongst his fellow prospects after handing a foul ball to a young fan during an outing to a Tampa Bay Rays game.
“He’s a combination of offensive and defensive player. He’s physically involved, but he’s got the skill and hockey sense to make good players. He’s useful in a number of different roles. Now he has to develop all those strengths.”
Richard seemed destined to be picked by the Lightning.
His grandmother has lived in Sebring, FL for as long as he remember and his father, who played seven games for the Washington Capitals in the late 1980s, had the same agent as former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk in 2004. Steven Stamkos was also born in Markham and played his junior hockey in Sarnia. Heck, Richard said Bolts captain Vincent Lecavalier even led his PlayStation League in scoring at one point and he has always been a big fan of No. 4.
Richard visited Florida several times, including 2004 when he attended Game 5 against the New York Islanders when Marty St. Louis won it in overtime and ended the first-round playoff series.
“We got hooked up with some great seats,” Richard said. “That was my first NHL experience.”
Mike Richard was a big-time scorer in the American Hockey League. He netted 46 goals for the Binghamton Whalers in 1987-88 and produced 107 points for the Baltimore Skipjacks. He had two assists in his seven games with the Caps.
The elder Richard, who once played for the Canadian national team, left the NHL in 1990 and played until 2006-07 in the Swiss League.
“He put up numbers,” Tanner said. “I feel like I have that part of the game, but I can be an agitating power forward as well. I like to play the body. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder and that kind of helps me, too.”
Tanner learned plenty from his father, especially off the ice.
“I watched how he prepared on game days, what he did before practice, how he ate, how he slept, his every-day routine,” Tanner said. “Two days before a game, he wouldn’t have a heavy meal. He told me not to have a beer in public, because the media can make it look like you had 10. He taught me so many little things.”
Richard had four goals in six games for the Swiss at the Under-18 world championships in 2011, but he did not expect to get selected in the 2011 NHL draft. However, he was picked 28th overall in the Canadian Junior Hockey League import draft by the Guelph Storm.
During the season with Guelph last winter, Richard played for the Swiss at the U20 World Juniors and contributed two goals in six games.
Richard didn’t know what to expect this week in Brandon.
“I just came in here open-minded, trying to take everything in and get a feel for things,” Richard said. “I want to learn as much as I can, meet the guys, make new friendships and get a taste of what it’s like from the older guys with all the experience.”
Murray said Richard needs to get a little quicker and gain more power in his legs. Richard said that is the part of the plan.
“Everyone wants to get stronger, faster, bigger,” Richard said. “But I just want to take things from each experience, watch better players, see what they do in certain situations and mold that into my game.”