Kristian Tanus is an 18-year-old forward who was passed over in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft but he’s getting some serious consideration this time around. NHL Central Scouting has him ranked 63rd among international skaters. Being ranked in that range suggests a late round pick in the draft. But then again, last year they ranked him 35th on the same list, and somehow he didn’t get drafted.
Other notable rankings from last year included Cam Robinson having him at number 104, McKeen’s Hockey having him at number 105, and ISS having him at number 130. So how come he didn’t get drafted already a year ago? Let’s dive deeper to figure it out.
Tanus is a smart and reliable playmaking center with amazing ability to process the game. His hockey sense and vision are very good, and he also has great hands which allow him to execute the plays he envisions. The problem he has is that he’s only 5-foot-8, and there’s no reason to think he would grow any further.
Last year, as a 17-year-old, Tanus had a good season with Tappara U20 team in Jr. A SM-liiga which is the top junior league in Finland. He had eight goals and 36 points in 48 games during the regular season, and then added four goals and eight points in nine playoff games. It was his first full year at that level, so you could say it was a very good season. But it wasn’t outstanding which is probably what he would have needed to draw more attention from NHL teams.
At the U18 Worlds a year ago, Tanus was an alternate captain on the Finnish team that won gold. Tanus was the number two center behind Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and he was so effective in that role that even when Rasmus Kupari joined the team mid-tournament, they decided to use Kupari at wing so that Tanus can keep his spot. Tanus was also used on both special teams, and was very impressive in both roles. He finished the tournament with one goal and seven points in seven games. It was a breakout performance for him at the international level. But still, it wasn’t dominant enough that NHL teams would have spent a late round pick on him.
This year, as an 18-year-old, Tanus has been mostly playing for LeKi in Mestis which is the second-highest professional level in Finland. As an undersized kid playing against men, he’s been one of the best players in the entire league. Among players with at least 20 games in Mestis this season, Tanus’ 1.31 points-per-game average ranks third league-wide. And it’s not like he’s been riding coattails either because he leads his team in points.
His numbers in Mestis are also amazing when you go through some all-time lists. 42 points is more than any other U20 player has had in that league, and he did it in just 32 games which is way less than his competition on that list. Not to mention he’s still eligible for the same list next season, although I’m fairly certain he won’t be playing in Mestis next year.
About two weeks ago, Tanus was loaned to Jukurit team in the Liiga which is the top level in Finland. This may seem a bit confusing but Tanus’ Liiga rights are owned by Tappara, and they have a stacked team with no room for Tanus. Apparently Jukurit wanted Tanus on their team and Tappara figured it’s the best thing for his development, so they loaned him to Jukurit even though both teams play in the same league. This may seem weird to some but it’s actually pretty common in Finland. It allows players to play at the highest possible level which is great for young players like Tanus.
Tanus has now played four games with Jukurit, and he’s been getting a much better opportunity than what he would have received from Tappara. He’s played six games with Tappara this season, and his average ice time has been just 4:22. With Jukurit, he’s averaging 15:06 per game, with 3:58 of that coming on the power play. He’s almost matching his ice time with Tappara on the power play alone. Tanus has been used as the number three center in all four games with Jukurit.
I had a chance to watch Tanus’ fourth game live, and I liked what I saw. He’s getting outmuscled in puck-battles at the Liiga level but that’s to be expected. He showed good vision, made good passes, and was pretty good defensively as well. He also scored his first career point in the Liiga. It was only fitting that he scored his first point in Tappara’s home rink, the Tampere Ice Stadium – although in this game they played against Ilves which is another Liiga team from Tampere.
After the game, I had a chance to interview Jukurit head coach Pekka Kangasalusta. Here’s what he said about Tanus (translated from Finnish to English by me):
“It was his fourth game, and he’s progressing all the time, learning the ropes. Obviously he had just one morning practice before the first two games. Now that he’s had a chance to spend a few more days with us, he’s getting to know the guys on our team. I thought he played really well yesterday, and there were times today when he played well. He’s learning all the time. A talented player learns the ropes pretty quickly. I think he’s made a good entrance to our team, and all in all, he’s a good player”, he said.
I also asked if Tanus needs more time to get into the Jukurit game system:
“Not necessarily. A smart player like him learns pretty quickly. That’s why they are so talented. Obviously, even though he has played in Mestis, this is a whole new league. But he’s going to be a great player in the future.”
It seems the head coach was pleased with Tanus, and also sees a bright future ahead for him. “A smart player” is the term he used, and it defines Tanus really well as a player. Regardless of which term you like to use – hockey sense, hockey smarts, hockey IQ – Tanus has plenty of it. That’s the thing that separates him from most players.
The only question is if he can overcome his lack of size. And there’s also room for improvement in his skating. But I believe in him and would be willing to use a late pick on him in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. One important thing to remember about Tanus is that with his late August birthday, he was very young for the 2018 draft. In fact, if he was born one month later, he would have been first-time draft-eligible this upcoming summer.
For fantasy hockey purposes, Tanus is a good late round gamble in deep points-only leagues. If he ever makes it to the NHL, his role will be producing points. But his value takes a hit in multi-cat leagues because he doesn’t provide peripheral stats like shots, hits or blocks. Most of his points will be assists, so that’s also something to keep in mind depending on your league settings.
Previously on the Prospect Deep Dive: The Curious Case of Anttoni Honka.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of Mestis.fi