The Pittsburgh Penguins coaches wasted no time with free-agent acquisition Brandon Tanev. On Day 1 of Penguins training camp, coaches planted Tanev beside Evgeni Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk in what will be the Penguins second scoring line. Malkin has a chip on his shoulder to prove that he is not too old and Galchenyuk is looking for a fresh start as an offensive weapon.
Malkin and Galchenyuk immediately pushed the play and showed off their puck wizardry in camp. Tanev’s job will not be to participate in the dangling, toe-drags, or other pretty plays. The Penguins will task Tanev with the ugly jobs of winning puck battles, being physical with the opponent’s defenders and puck pressure. But he will also need to provide some offense.
Tanev, 27, will have a new role. He was used almost exclusively as fourth line banger in Winnipeg. Last season, with big Adam Lowry at center, Tanev scored a career-high 14 goals and 29 points. Those aren’t the typical stats of a top-six left winger, but the Penguins are reshaping their team and not adhering to “typical” standards.
But will he have to adjust and adapt his game to fit the role of a top-six forward?
“You have to play the same way you’ve always played. Stay confident and build off those guys,” Tanev said. “They’re two extremely skilled players and gifted goal scorers and playmakers. I’m just trying to find empty space, work hard, and get that puck.”
And in a nutshell, that will be Tanev’s job. Find the puck and find open space. The Pittsburgh Penguins claimed a pair of Stanley Cups with Carl Hagelin filling that role, though Hagelin often did it from the third line in 2016.
Tanev is also part of the new team identity of the Penguins. No longer does Pittsburgh have a high flying, high risk-high reward team which dazzles with skill and speed. The Penguins have learned that a team-game is more important than skill, and responsibility is more important than almost everything else. But the pace will remain, and Tanev has plenty of that.
“I like to play tenacious and physical, and try to get the body as much as I can,” Tanev said Saturday after the second camp scrimmage.
Last season, Tanev had over 200 hits with the Winnipeg Jets. Considering that he played only 14 minutes per game, that number is even more impressive. Pittsburgh Hockey Now did a full film breakdown of Tanev after he signed with the Penguins. Tanev is one of the fastest if not fastest Penguins skater. He will be physical and tenacious on the puck. Our film study confirmed he could be a disruptive forechecker.
But Tanev will also need to do more than just Mike Rowe’s dirty jobs. He will also need to finish some chances, too. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford traded Hagelin last November for Tanner Pearson for several reasons, but one of which was the Penguins wanted more offense from Malkin’s left-winger.
The biting question surrounding Tanev will be if he can produce enough offensive in that golden situation to justify his six-year, $21 million contract. The 6-foot, 180-pound grind line terror has not played much hockey with a pressure to score. His contributions will be measured beyond the bottom line stats, however. His contributions will be totaled in part based on Malkin and Galchenyuk’s success, too.
Tanev’s job will be to get the puck to them, to retrieve it, to create turnovers for them and to battle at the net. If he does his job right, he’ll be wearing a scar across the bridge of his nose for most of the season.
It’s immediately all-in for the Penguins on Tanev. He is the kind of player the Pittsburgh Penguins sought to replace the tepid or somewhat self-serving attitude with crept into the team last season. Team-first, whatever it takes, and speed are what the Penguins desired. With Tanev, they got it.
“You want the right fit, and I felt like Pittsburgh was the right fit for me,” Tanev explained his decision to choose the Penguins.
The only question remains if the talent mix will produce wins, and that will determine if he is the fit for Pittsburgh.