Brandon Tanev is more known for his headshot than his hockey.
For a formerly unheralded player who had an untraditional route to the NHL, it’s kind of on brand.
Tanev’s headshot with the Penguins went viral at the end of training camp last season. Once it gained national attention, he told reporters in Pittsburgh, “I did actually see a ghost. It was walking behind the gentleman that was taking our pictures. It kind of caught me off guard. I haven’t seen one of those things yet. It was pretty rare to see that. That’s why I had that facial expression.”
When he was selected by the Kraken in July’s expansion draft, Tanev and five teammates explored the city for a few days, but Tanev said he hasn’t seen a ghost in the Emerald City just yet.
“Seeing the city and being a part of the event, I was glad I had the opportunity to come out and be a part of it,” he said. “I’ll have to look into (haunted and ghost attractions in Seattle) if those are out there.”
Ghost or not, Tanev’s play was anything but ghastly in his last season with the Penguins. The 29-year-old was on pace to break his career-high goal total if he had a full season, tallying seven goals and 16 points in 32 games. He missed 24 games in the COVID-19-shortened season because of injuries.
Primarily a bottom-six forward with the Penguins, Tanev described his play as a “200-foot player” with speed and a physical edge with a strong work ethic. He led the Penguins with 2:23 per game of short-handed time, and led the team with 139 hits.
So his self-description seems spot-on for what kind of a player Kraken fans can expect.
“I like to continue energy throughout the game,” he said. “Whether that’s on the ice or the bench, in the locker room or for myself, it’s all about doing what the team needs in that moment. Maybe it’s blocking a shot or throwing a big hit, that kind of stuff. That’s a big part of my game.”
Though Tanev has scored as many as 14 goals in a season — coming in his career-best year of 2018-19 with the Jets — he likely won’t be a headliner on offense with the Kraken. Instead, he’s an identity-establishing type of player, the kind who can spark the Kraken when it needs it but also build around his energy.
“He’s a very hard worker,” Kraken forward and former Penguins teammate Jared McCann said. “We call him ‘Turbo’ for a reason. He’s always, always on the forecheck. He paces the game, and a lot of guys will see that.”
Tanev’s path to the Kraken wasn’t simple. Undrafted out of Providence, Tanev had already established himself by scoring the game-winner in the 2015 national championship over Boston University.
He had been overlooked long before his college career, though; Tanev, who played soccer and ran track in high school, had a lengthy hiatus away from hockey after being cut from his junior team due to his size.
Then he earned a chance with the OJHL’s Markham Waxers, before going west to the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL, where he became a point-per-game player before going to college.
Tanev, now under contract for four more seasons with a cap hit of $3.5 million, developed a reputation between the AHL and his NHL-draft team, the Winnipeg Jets, as a tenacious player. In his six-year NHL career, he has lived up to that.
The ultimate reward for his career patience was taking center stage at the Kraken expansion draft, where he was touted as a franchise player.
“It was pretty spectacular, overlooking the water and seeing how many people were out there cheering and being a part of it,” Tanev said. “This was the first time (in Seattle), so it was great to meet people in the organization and see what Seattle has to offer. It was a quick 48 hours but rewarding 48 hours.”
Tanev said he was told the Tuesday night before the draft he would be the Kraken’s selection from the Penguins. It was a whirlwind from there, but rewarding to be a staple player for a new NHL franchise.
As far as the now-famous headshot, perhaps Tanev will become known for more than just that across the NHL in his time with the Kraken. There might be some more fun to come before that, though.
“You never know what’s gonna happen,” Tanev said. “Maybe there’ll be something like that there, too.”