Vancouver Canucks Chris Tanev: A Defensive Prototype


Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev is developing into the prototypical defensive defenceman of the future.

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The National Hockey League has seen a lot of change over the past few decades and the way defence is played is no exception. Just like goons and enforcers, the defensive defenceman as we know it is an endangered breed. Heavyweights like 6-foot-3, 245-pound Douglas Murray have to clear the way for more skilled players like, well, the Vancouver Canucks’ Christopher Tanev.

In an attempt to define Tanev’s player type, most people would probably call him a defensive defenseman. But yet, he has nothing to do with a guy like Murray, who was one of the hardest hitters of his time.

Listed at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Tanev may be as tall as many shutdown defencemen, but he is not a heavyweight by any means. Ranked by hits, Tanev is 208th among NHL defencemen, with a total of seven hits in 24 games. Last season, he ranked 229th with 23 hits in 70 games played. So, what is it that makes Tanev so good as a defensive player who has never been in a fight and absorbs more hits than he takes?

As said earlier, the NHL has changed a lot over the past years, and defence is played differently compared to what it was like in the past. Players who are bad skaters or whose only skills are hitting and fighting are continuing to be eliminated, leaving us with the most skilled group of players the game has ever seen. Canucks blue liner Chris Tanev is a perfect example for what the skilled defenceman of the future may look like.

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In the 2014-15 season, Tanev led all Canucks defencemen (20+games) in Corsi For percentage at 52.1 percent and in Corsi Against per 60 minutes at 50.21. Furthermore, the Canucks gave up 7.71 less unblocked shots against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 time with Tanev on the ice. The only other player in the league who had a similar impact was Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers, with whom the Panthers surrendered 7.26 fewer shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 time than without him. As if that was not enough, Tanev ranks fourth in the league in shot blocks this season at 64 blocks in 24 games played.

In other words, Tanev does not try to punish his opponents physically. His skating and agility allow him to beat the attacking forward with his excellent positioning and gap control. With him on the ice, the Canucks surrender fewer shots against because Tanev knows how to take away shooting lanes, forcing turnovers or passes away from the net. When the attacking team does end up shooting the puck, Tanev is usually in good position to block the shot, taking away pressure from the goaltender.

Tanev does not possess the offensive skill of a two-way defenceman like Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith, but he can play crisp, accurate breakout passes and control the puck in the offensive zone, which is a skill that many defensive D-men lack. Furthermore, his skating, vision and hockey sense allow him to make quick transitions between offence and defence, always staying in position.

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Going forward, the “Chris Tanev type” will be the type of defensive defenceman managers and coaches will be looking for in the draft and free agency. Players who are responsible defensively but also know how to skate and handle the puck, while being matched up against the opponents’ top forward lines, are the NHL’s future defensive D-men.

*Stats assembled from, and