Tanev a late grower, not a late bloomer

Not long ago, Chris Tanev wondered whether he had a future in hockey but not anymore.

Monday, 28.06.2010 / 12:06 PM / Features
By Farhan Devji
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Tanev a late grower, not a late bloomer

Not long ago, Chris Tanev wondered whether he had a future in hockey.

But today – having decided to turn pro after only one season in college – he is a proud member of the Vancouver Canucks.

“Chances like this don’t come around too often,” said Tanev, who took a month to ponder over his options before deciding to leave college for the professional ranks. “It’s something that I felt I needed to take advantage of so I just took it and ran with it.”

Four or five NHL teams, including the San Jose Sharks, the Ottawa Senators, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, showed interest in acquiring Tanev’s services, but the native of Toronto, Ont. ultimately settled on the Canucks.

“Vancouver’s a first-class organization,” said Tanev, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers alumnus. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about the city and the organization and honestly, it just seemed like they wanted me the most.”

And no one wanted him more than Canucks director of player development Dave Gagner. As it turns out, Gagner has known about Tanev since the young defenceman was 11 years old and playing against his son Sam Gagner in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL). Tanev was a member of the Toronto Red Wings, an elite minor hockey team in the region, which Gagner described as a “dynasty” at the time. Louie Caporusso, the Ottawa Senators third-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, was another member of the dominant squad, which Gagner says Tanev was a “big part of.”

Furthermore, Gagner coached Tanev’s spring inline hockey team – also based in the Greater Toronto Area – for two years. However, as years went on and everyone else in his age group started growing, Tanev was left behind – quite literally. As a result, he was forced to quit competitive hockey at the age of 15 after he and the Toronto Red Wings parted ways.

“Everyone said I was too small to play so I couldn’t really find a team to play on,” said Tanev, who was barely five foot and about 120 pounds at the time. “At that point, I was pretty iffy about what was going to happen with hockey and my future.”

For two straight years, aside from a few months of practicing with Gagner’s Toronto Marlies AAA minor midget team, Tanev ended up only playing high school hockey, which wasn’t much for competition.

“He’s always had the ability and he’s always had the same kind of head for the game, but he just stopped growing,” said Gagner, the Canucks’ prospects guru. “So he’s not really a late bloomer in terms of skill; he was just a late grower.”

As he started growing, Tanev started to excel once again, this time with the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League’s (OPJHL) Markham Waxers. In 2007-08, Tanev helped lead Markham to a Southeast championship and was named the team’s most improved player. The following year as an assistant captain, he led all defecemen with 41 points in 50 games and received honours as the team’s most outstanding defenceman. As a result of his strong play, the RIT Tigers of the NCAA’s Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) took notice and brought him into the fold for the 2009-10 season.

And he made an immediate impact. Tanev was named the AHA Rookie of the Year last season, after finishing third among all freshmen in scoring with nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points. Even more impressive, although he was scored against on his first shift with the Tigers, Tanev was only on the ice for nine even strength goals against, according to RIT co-director of sports information Joe Venniro, and only took two minor penalties during the regular season. This despite being paired up with Dan Ringwald against the opponents’ top scoring lines on a nightly basis. Tanev led the Tigers and the entire AHA with a +33 rating in 41 games played last season.

“When I saw that Chris was playing for RIT in the NCAA tournament, I was like ‘oh my gosh,” said Gagner.

As per Gagner’s recommendation, Canucks director of collegiate scouting Stan Smyl, along with amateur scout Jonathan Bates, professional scout Lucien Debois, and other members of the Canucks organization kept a close eye on Tanev at the recent NCAA Frozen Four tournament, in which his Tigers fell to Wisconsin in the semifinals. Although Mike Gillis was never able to watch Tanev play live, Gagner and co. put together a video package that illustrated the defender’s abilities for the general manager’s viewing.

“I’ve known Chris for a long time so I knew what his hockey make-up was,” said Gagner. “His hockey sense is very, very sound. But I mean, everybody’s got to be on board. Fortunately, everybody could see it right away.”

Gagner compared Tanev’s style of play to that of a current Canucks defenceman who turned many heads this past season: Christian Ehrhoff.

“He plays a complete game where he wants to be involved in all aspects of it,” said Gagner. “He kills penalties, he’ll block shots, he’ll join the rush five-on-five, he really closes his gaps well, and on the power play he’s creative so he knows how to make plays.”

Clearly, the Canucks believe they’ve found a gem.

“We think we’ve found a really smart hockey player and we didn’t have to draft him,” said Gagner. “It’s a great addition to our prospects pool and we’re pretty excited.”

He is, too.

“This is something I’ve looked forward to since I started playing hockey when I was four and it’s a dream come true.”

Although the Canucks prospects development camp isn’t slated to commence until the week of July 5, Tanev is already in Vancouver working out every day with Canucks strength and conditioning coach Roger Takahashi. And so far, the Canucks’ newest prized possession likes what he sees.

“I love it; it’s a beautiful city,” said Tanev, who admitted that his relationship with Gagner did play a role in his decision to choose Vancouver. “And the people seem great.”

Now standing six foot two and weighing in at 185 pounds, Tanev intends to bulk up even more this summer with the hope of cracking the Canucks lineup next season. And whether he starts the season in Vancouver or in Winnipeg with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, one thing’s for certain: he doesn’t have to worry about finding a team anymore.