The next biggest game for the Vancouver Canucks in this young season is only hours away and young defenceman Chris Tanev sounds stress free and ready to nap.
But if we've learned anything from his rapid rise from tier II junior to NHL regular in four years, it is the 23-year-old defenceman is one cool customer.
Canucks veteran Kevin Bieksa said it best. When Tanev was thrust into the Vancouver lineup because of injuries in the Stanley Cup final a couple years ago, Bieksa was asked how he thought the kid performed in Game 5 and came up with this gem.
"He could have played with a cigarette in his mouth," said Bieksa, marvelling at how composed Tanev appeared, even though it was only his third NHL playoff match after 29 regular-season games.
So where does this calmness, this quietness, come from? His parents?
"It's definitely not from my parents," said Tanev from Chicago, where the Canucks will take on the 12-0-3 Blackhawks on Tuesday.
"They'll talk you're ear off. I'll talk when I have to.
"But I'm more of a listener."
'I was small'
Being a good listener has been a big part of Tanev's success. He's all ears when a coach has advice.
That's why he doesn't hesitate to credit his coaches, from Rick Cornacchia with the Markham Waxers (tier II) junior team to Rochester Institute of Technology's Wayne Wilson and his staff to Claude Noel with the Manitoba Moose to Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault and his associate Rick Bowness to even Scott Arniel, who had Tanev for 29 games with the AHL Chicago Wolves during the lockout.
It was Wilson who disputed the notion that Tanev, of East York, Ont., was a late bloomer and that was the reason why he went undrafted. Wilson believes that Tanev went unheralded for so long simply because he was so small. When he was midget age, Tanev weighed only 120 pounds and was only 5-feet tall. Then he shot up and filled out.
"I felt I moved the puck well enough to play with the best players my age back then, but I had limitations because I was small," said Tanev, now 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. "I still want to get stronger and my shot still needs some work.
"But with experience and coaching I continue to get better."
Tanev is two weeks removed from his first NHL goal, an overtime winner in Edmonton in his 63rd NHL game. Goals came more frequently in his one and only season in Rochester, when he scored 10 in 41 games to lead the underdog school to the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four.
It was at the Frozen Four where the Canucks and other NHL teams like the Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets liked what they saw and made a bid to sign Tanev as a free agent.
Tanev took a couple months before he decided on the Canucks. He was familiar with Vancouver director of player personnel Dave Gagner, who coached Tanev on a Toronto-area inline team one summer, and he liked the Canucks frank approach.
"They were straight shooters," Tanev said. "They told me I would have to improve and they had a plan for me.
"They told me I would get an opportunity to play in the NHL if I became good enough."
'A big game'
It has been Tanev's willingness to learn and his coolness under pressure that has expedited his path to the NHL and to another big game in Chicago on Tuesday.
"It's obviously a big game," Tanev said. "They're undefeated, they're the best team in the league.
"It's the United Center -- you know, the Mad House on Madison. It's a game we can measure ourselves and see where we're at."
Tanev almost seemed animated about the game. Okay, maybe not.
Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC
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