CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Brandon Tanev had a career year with Winnipeg in 2018-19.
OK, so Nikita Kucherov probably didn't jump online as soon as every Jets game ended to see if Tanev was about to overtake him in the NHL scoring race, but Tanev's personal stats -- 14 goals and 15 assists in 80 games -- did represent a quantum leap forward from his previous production with the Jets.
And to hear Tanev tell it, the improvement was more of a portent than an aberration.
"As you play more games in the league and get more confident, your game tends to grow," he said by phone Monday. "I played with great players in Winnipeg. I owe a lot to the players there. At the same time, you get very confident in yourself and understand the game you need to play to make yourself successful in that league. That stems from the confidence you build on a year-to-year basis."
The Penguins, who signed Tanev to a six-year, $21 million contract today, didn't pursue him because they were looking for an offensive upgrade but clearly were impressed by the effort he has made to become a valuable contributor at this level.
He passed through a few drafts unclaimed and, after playing four years at Providence College, signed with the Jets as a free agent in 2016. He went scoreless in three NHL games that spring, then had two goals and two assists in 51 games in 2016-17.
Tanev's numbers ticked up -- eight goals and 10 assists in 61 games -- the following season before having something of a breakout year.
"He's made himself into a player," Jim Rutherford said. "He's worked hard at it. Some guys develop later in their career. He's one of those guys who had to work hard to get to where he's gotten."
Tanev's skating, grit, responsible two-way play and penalty-killing ability seemed to attract considerable interest around the league as he approached unrestricted free agency. He opted to join the Penguins, though — partly because of what they accomplished in recent years, partly because of what Tanev believes they are capable of achieving in the future. He called the Penguins "a great organization that's had a lot of success in the past, winning Stanley Cups," adding that "there's still a very strong group of core players."
Strong enough, he suggested, that it should be capable of helping the Penguins to contend for another championship or two.
"I think there's a great opportunity to win and be successful here in Pittsburgh," Tanev said. "And that's what I'm very excited about."