When you look at the NHL rookie scoring race this season, there are some expected characters up high in Lucas Raymond, Trevor Zegras and Moritz Seider. All three were top-10 draft picks and came into the league with high expectations. But heading into the second half of the campaign, no rookie had as many goals as Nashville Predators left winger Tanner Jeannot.
Oh, you don’t know Jeannot? Well, it’s high time we changed that.
Jeannot, still Calder-eligible at the age of 24, passed through the NHL draft unclaimed during his WHL career with the Moose Jaw Warriors. He was invited to Minnesota’s rookie camp at 19, then Washington’s gathering at 20, but didn’t get a draft call or a contract out of either.
In his overage season with Moose Jaw, he exploded for 40 goals and 80 points, and after a solid playoff run, Jeannot found interest from Nashville and signed with the Predators. “The skating was the big obstacle,” said assistant GM and director of scouting Jeff Kealty. “Everyone has deficiencies, but when you see the drive, the character and the habits of doing things the right way, it gives you a good feel that this player is going to do everything they can to get there and improve.”
Glen Sanders, the Preds’ Western scout, had been keeping tabs on Jeannot – who also went undrafted in the WHL's bantam draft – over the years and saw the progression in the young man, which he relayed to the rest of the organization. “He just kept getting better and better,” Kealty said. “He wasn’t a hot-shot prospect by any means, but he’s big and strong and powerful and got better each year. The origins of his habits and all the pieces of his game became noticeable as his junior career went on, and in his last year with Moose Jaw, he really took off.”
Jeannot’s physical tools are indeed impressive. He’s 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, but on top of that, he’s always been incredibly fit. In fact, he has two awards named after him already: the Warriors have the Tanner Jeannot Strength and Conditioning Award, while the Yorkton (Sask.) AAA Maulers, where he played prior to major junior, have the Tanner Jeannot Fitness Award. “Both my coaches from there asked me a couple years ago if I minded if they named the award after me, and I was pretty shocked, honestly,” Jeannot said. “But it’s an honor and a big part of my mindset. I always want to be one of the most in-shape guys coming in every day.”
Growing up in the small, southern Saskatchewan town of Oxbow, Jeannot had most of the same classmates from kindergarten to graduation, and he still gets a lot of support from the locals. Both his parents are retired teachers, and his older brother is a teacher as well. By the time he was 15, one of his closest friends was Jayden Halbgewachs, who would go on to put up huge numbers as one of Jeannot’s teammates in Moose Jaw and made his NHL debut with San Jose this season.
Halbgewachs also went undrafted in the NHL – he’s small by league standards – but he was fast, and he had a skating coach in Saskatchewan named Liane Davis. Jeannot began working with Davis as well, setting him on the path to future success. “We’ve always thought my acceleration and straight-line speed was pretty good,” Jeannot said. “But I wanted to get quicker, get out of the corners quicker, get out to the point quicker. I’ve worked with her every summer for a long time now, and it’s a lot of edgework and something I’ll continue to do for sure.”
For Davis, seeing Jeannot’s evolution over the years has been gratifying – not only in terms of his skating but also his leadership. “Tanner’s gift is his work ethic,” she said. “From the time I met him, he was always the fittest, always on time, engaged all the time, quiet and attentive. To see him come in this past summer and mentor some of the younger 20-year-old kids was marvelous because he was always pretty quiet and focused. Now, he has blossomed.”
As for the skating itself, Jeannot’s commitment got him the necessary results. “He made a decision three summers ago to really focus on some specifics,” Davis said. “And his little taste of the NHL last year led him to figure out what he needed to do to stay at that level. He spent probably 75 percent of our ice time together this past summer on tight turns, corner work, reverse tight turns, battling and carrying the puck, like ‘This is going to be my game, this is what I have to do.’ And he stuck with it. Tight turns are a skill that can get pretty scary the bigger you get, and I think he stopped using them because they weren’t in his wheelhouse. Then he realized he better get them back in his wheelhouse.”
On their last day together this past summer, Jeannot handed Davis his phone and asked her to film his tight turns while she did voiceover so he could keep working on them during the season.
After Moose Jaw, Jeannot turned pro, and his first stop was with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. His first season there was unremarkable, but it set the table for the burgeoning power forward. “It was definitely an eye-opener,” he said. “You don’t get away with the mistakes you can make in junior, and that was one of the things I learned right away, just how consistent you have to be.”
He spent most of his sophomore pro campaign in 2019-20 in Milwaukee, spelled by some time down in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades. Last season, he started in Florida because the ECHL was the first league to get up and running. He then headed to the AHL, but because the Admirals organization decided not to play through the pandemic, Nashville sent its prospects to the Chicago Wolves, the Carolina Hurricanes' AHL affiliate. The Canes-Preds mashup was super young and super fun, putting names such as Seth Jarvis and Philip Tomasino on the same team. It also led to Jeannot wading into new but exciting territory. “It was a really young team, and I was put into a leadership role, which was a new experience for me at the pro level,” he said. “I had worn a letter in junior before, but not the pros. I was getting more ice time and more power-play opportunities, and as soon as I got it, I didn’t want to let it go.”
Jeannot also had his initial crack at the NHL last season, getting into 15 games with the Preds and putting up a respectable seven points. But this year has been even better.
Playing mainly on an “identity line” with Colton Sissons and Yakov Trenin, Jeannot has scored goals, thrown hits and dropped the gloves eight times – but he can also complement skill players and create space. With Nashville exceeding outside expectations this season, the Preds are looking like the type of team you don’t want to face in the playoffs. And based on Jeannot’s profile, it’s hard not to predict the 24-year-old making an even more significant impact in the post-season, when games get tighter and tougher. “That’s absolutely something we’ve talked about,” Kealty said. “It’s something we talked about at length last year when we decided to protect him in the Seattle expansion draft. He hadn’t played a lot then, but if you look at what Tampa Bay did to get over the hump, by adding some of the heavier, more rugged players that they did, there’s no question that goes into the equation.”
It’s all pretty remarkable for a player who was never at the top of a draft list, never played in a World Junior Championship – never played for Canada at any level, frankly. He had some sage advice from his dad – control the things you can control – and a bruising game married to a touch around the net. But the kid also had the drive, and once he got a taste of the NHL, he never looked back, even if the path to his dream wasn’t always straightforward. “There are definitely ups and downs, which any player will tell you,” Jeannot said. “That’s one of the hardest things as a pro athlete, having that mental stability and toughness without getting too high or low. There were times I doubted myself, when things aren’t going your way, or you’re getting passed over in the draft. But I always had that dream like every other player deep down and was going to do whatever it took to get there.”
Now he’s part of a great collective in Nashville where everyone seems to be pushing in the same direction and the Predators know who they are. “The group we have is pretty amazing,” Jeannot said. “The vibe we have in the dressing room is really good, everyone is loving coming to the rink and playing for each other and has bought into the identity we have as the Predators. That identity is to be one of the hardest teams to play against, win all the battles we can, be really hard on their defensemen and try to get some greasy ones down low. But we also have the skill to go along with it. Everyone has bought in, and we want to keep it rolling.”
Sounds like a Jeannot kind of team.