Looking at Alex Tanguay’s numbers, it’s not surprising that he’s doing well. The 36-year-old Quebec native has been a consistent offensive threat and possession driver throughout his NHL career.
What is surprising is seeing him turn around what was looking like a declining season and becoming one of the best success stories of the most recent trade deadline. When asked, Tanguay had a simple explanation for his improvement.
“I started off the year a little slow, but had started to get in the groove when I got traded,” he admitted on Friday morning. “The trade gives you some extra momentum, though, and you can really build off that. You jump in with a new team and it’s easy to go from there.”
A former first-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche with over 1,000 career NHL games under his belt, Tanguay is one of just two players dealt at the 2016 deadline who has been playing at at least a point-per-game pace. He’s joined only by the equally surprising Devante Smith-Pelly, who has six goals and nine points in seven games for the New Jersey Devils since March 1.
Tanguay’s numbers aren’t just improving for him–they’re improving the entire Coyotes roster, particularly his linemates in Antoine Vermette and Anthony Duclair. The ‘French Connection’ line, made up of the three former QMJHL skaters, has combined to create one of Arizona’s most dynamic trios in the last two weeks. They boast nine goals and 10 assists between the three of them since March 1. That’s almost unheard of production, especially for a line that has a rookie and two veterans with seemingly declining numbers.
That’s both due to their talent and to the addition of Tanguay, but he doesn’t think of himself as anything more than the piece that completed the puzzle.
“I like to play to keep the puck, even if I don’t shoot as much as other guys,” he suggested. “But when you put that together with the talent they offer, the opportunities just come.”
He was quick to mention that it isn’t just his line. The forward, whose three goals and seven points in just six games for Arizona have already reached nearly a third of his production over 52 games for Colorado before the trade, said he’s always been an admirer of the system Arizona plays. From his admitted excitement at the prospect of seeing what Oliver Ekman-Larsson can do upon the blue liner’s return from injury to his praise of a laundry list of Coyotes players–including Duclair, Martinook and the entire blue line–Tanguay was aware of Arizona and what it had to offer even before he arrived, both on the ice and behind the bench.
They’re a defense-first minded team, and for a player who likes to control possession–even if he said he doesn’t pay much attention to things like Corsi–that’s a perfect fit.
The question will soon have to be whether Tanguay has a fit with Arizona moving forward.
He’s a strong player and is clearly helping a previously struggling Vermette as much as he’s helping the rookie Duclair, but he is 36; he knows as well as his fans that he’s reaching an age where it’s going to be tough to be certain of his future at the end of each season. This offseason, as he put it, is still largely “unknown.”
It’s not just his age, either.
The Coyotes have seen rapid improvements from the two rookies they employ outside of Duclair on offense, Max Domi and Jordan Martinook. The 23-year-old Martinook is one of Arizona’s best possession drivers through the netural zone, dominating the competition in controlled entries and impressing on the penalty kill. The talent that Max Domi offers is eye-catching, masterful offensive skill. They also offer strong sophomores in Tobias Rieder and Connor Murphy as well.
Add in the team’s incoming talent from the juniors, including OHL standouts Christian Dvorak and Dylan Strome, and older players like Tanguay will have to compete with the team’s more established veterans (such as Vermette and Shane Doan) to win a spot as one of the ‘veteran presences’ in next year’s lineup.
For now, he’s looking to finish out the year as best he can–and the momentum he got from the trade is helping him to do that.
“It’s a lot of fun to win games, obviously, and it’s a lot of fun to be able to help do that,” were Tanguay’s final thoughts on his trade. “I try not to pay as much attention to the little stats from game to game, whether I’m doing well or I’m struggling one night – because the stat that really matters is the win. It’s just nice to be able to contribute to the win, as well.”