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Canucks sign defenseman Tanev to five-year contract

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev figured he was finished with hockey in high school, so the idea of one day signing a five-year, $22.25 million contract never crossed his mind.

That's exactly what the 25-year-old did Tuesday, signing an extension with the Canucks worth $4.45 million per season almost 10 years after he thought he was done playing competitively.

"It's something I never thought would happen at all, especially during those days," said Tanev, who signed in Vancouver as an undrafted free agent in 2010, after one season playing NCAA hockey at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "Even during college I had no idea I would be in the NHL now. It's just something that's evolved so fast and I'm just happy to be here and along for the ride."

It's a ride that almost ended in grade 10 because Tanev was 5 feet tall and weighed less than 120 pounds, too small to continue playing AAA hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

"I couldn't really make any triple-A teams, so I just went back and played high school hockey once a week with my buddies," said Tanev, who also turned to roller hockey. "And I honestly thought I would play some high school hockey with friends and that would be it."

A growth spurt gave him the confidence to try out for a junior A team two years later and ultimately led him to college hockey.

"I grew quite a bit and then I could compete with the guys playing junior and I thought I might as well go for it," Tanev said.

Tanev is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, and there is still some growing to do when it comes to his game, especially at the offensive end. But the Canucks saw enough in his strong defensive play and ability to get the puck safely out of their end to buy three years of unrestricted free agency and lock up Tanev until he is 30 years old.

Tanev has two goals, 14 assists and 44 shots in 60 games playing a little more than 21 minutes a game this season, and he is plus-10 and his 54.6 unblocked shot attempts percentage (USAT%) ranks 16th among NHL defensemen who have played at least 50 games this season, despite playing much of the time against opponent's top lines.

"He's like a transitional defensive defenseman, where he is real good defensively but he can skate the puck out of his own end and get it up for our forwards," Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. "When we were looking for comparables to what other players do in the League he is in a bit of a unique situation, but he can fill big minutes for us, he kills penalties, and he plays against other teams best lines."

Tanev also helped top-unit defense partner Alexander Edler bounce back from a career-worst minus-39 rating last season. Edler is plus-12 this season and has a 54.11 USAT% compared to a 51.88 USAT% last season, when he wasn't paired regularly with Tanev.

"I feel very comfortable playing with him," Edler said. "He's not a guy that is panicking out there, he is very calm and steady. He makes good plays all over the ice, he is a very smart player, he sees the ice well and he doesn't make many mistakes."

Benning credited Tanev for signing a one-year contract last summer to give the Canucks more flexibility to sign players this season, and said he promised they would look after him in the long term.

"I had no doubt in my mind about that," Tanev said.

Benning said he jokes with Tanev about improving his shot velocity, and Tanev said he sees room for growth in his offensive game, including power-play time in the future. Tanev, who has 10 goals and 43 points in 216 NHL games, conceded there are areas he can continue to improve offensively, but for now he's focused on his role on the Canucks' top shutdown defensive pairing.

That includes 153 blocked shots this season, which leads the Canucks by 40 and is 13th among NHL defensemen.

"He's the goalie's best friend," goaltender Eddie Lack said. "He is reading the play so well and blocking shots. He's just a thrill to have out there."

Like Tanev, Lack couldn't have imagined this contract even five years ago as American Hockey League roommates.

"It kinds of feels like yesterday we were sitting in Winnipeg and he had his Grinch pajamas on and now he's a millionaire," Lack said with a big grin. "I'm just happy for him."

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