The Paper Feature is a weekly column and sidebars that appears in the Vancouver Courier newspaper. Track it down! This particular paper feature was written before Chris Tanev got injured.
Chris Tanev doesn’t rack up points. He doesn’t quarterback the power play or rush the puck up ice. Tanev doesn’t throw big hits or clear the crease with his size. On his best nights, you’ll barely notice he’s on the ice.
He’s the most important player on the Canucks.
Tanev is in the top-tier of a new breed of defensive defencemen in the NHL. That phrase once brought to mind big, tough defencemen, who likely couldn’t skate particularly well but could throw a mean crosscheck in front of the net. The new batch are all mobile, puck-moving defenceman who use their stick to take away the puck and move it up ice rather than crosscheck, hook, and slash.
When Alex Edler suffered a knee injury, Ben Hutton eventually made his way to the top pairing. Alongside Tanev, the young defenceman known more for his offensive upside than his defensive ability has suddenly looked like an elite shutdown defenceman, regularly playing against the best the opposition can offer.
“It’s been good playing with Tanny,” says Hutton, “working every night to shut the top line down. When we’re successful, it’s a great feeling coming back into the locker room, especially when you have the two points.”
The duo complement each other well — Hutton is more free-wheeling, while Tanev tends to stay-at-home — and have helped the Canucks become one of the stingiest teams in the league. The Canucks allow the fourth fewest shots on goal in the NHL, and the third fewest goals.
Hutton and Tanev have been on the ice for just 4 goals against at even-strength, an impressive feat given the quality of competition they face. Among defence pairs that have played at least 80 minutes together this season, only three pairings in the NHL have allowed a lower rate of shot attempts against and only one of those pairings, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson, can be said to play a similar role as Hutton and Tanev.
In other words, Hutton and Tanev are legitimately one of the best shutdown pairs in the entire NHL. While Hutton is an underrated defenceman with a well-rounded game, let’s face facts: he’s not a shutdown defenceman on the top pairing without Tanev. The veteran makes things a lot easier for Hutton on the ice, and not just with his sound positional play.
“You might not know it, but he’s always talking out there,” says Hutton. “He’s very quiet off the ice, but on the ice he’s letting you know where he is. He’s always in the right position, he’s got a great stick, we just work well off each other.”
“Tanev seems to help everyone he plays with,” says head coach Travis Green. “I’m guessing that all the defencemen like playing with Tanny.”
The forwards like it too. The much-ballyhooed shutdown line of Markus Granlund, Brandon Sutter, and Derek Dorsett doesn’t do so much shutting down when they’re not on the ice with Tanev.
In fact, the shutdown line gives up nearly 15 more shot attempts against per hour without Tanev. Their offensive numbers also crash without Tanev on the ice, which is generally a sign that they can’t get out of the defensive zone. A lot of the credit they received early in the season should have been redirected towards Tanev.
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
Stick-tap to Canucks prospect Kole Lind for improving his chances to make Team Canada with a strong performance in the Subway Super Series. Lind had two goals and an assist in the first game of the series against the Russian Junior team. The Canucks’ 33rd overall pick in 2017 is one of the top scorers in the WHL this season, with 10 goals and 29 points in 18 games.
Dropping the gloves with the NHL for overlooking Brock Boeser in their Rookie of the Month honours for October. Don’t get me wrong: Clayton Keller clearly deserved the win, but Boeser apparently didn’t even merit a mention. His breakout 4-point game may have come in November, but he still had 9 points in 8 games in October and deserved an honourable mention with the likes of Mikhail Sergachev, Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt, and Adrian Kempe.
21 - Even with Thursday's loss to the Anaheim Ducks, the Canucks have still allowed the fewest goals against in the entire NHL at 5-on-5: just 21 goals against. That’s a testament to their goaltending tandem, but also their commitment to team defense at even-strength. Their biggest issue defensively has been on the penalty kill.
60 - The franchise record for most points by a Canucks rookie is 60 points, held by both Ivan Hlinka and Pavel Bure. It’s early yet, but Brock Boeser is on pace to shatter that mark. With 14 points in 13 games, Boeser is on pace for 85 points. He’s unlikely to reach that high a plateau, but a new rookie record is definitely within reach.