Moose Jaw to Nashville: How Tanner Jeannot Found A Home with the Preds

“Tanner was one of those guys that just always stood out every game I went to,” Sanders recalled. “I followed him a lot in the playoffs, and when he was playing against Prince Albert, he was just running people over. And I’m like, ‘I just love this kid.'”

Excited by his potential find of the undrafted forward, Sanders approached Jeannot’s agent for some insight. Once Sanders heard there wasn’t much – if any – interest yet from professional teams in Jeannot’s services, the excitement turned to promise with a dash of urgency.

“I phoned [Predators Assistant General Manager] Brian [Poile], and said, ‘We need to sign this guy,'” Sanders said. “I thought this kid would be great in Milwaukee. He’s just a tough prairie kid, just he does everything right. I’ll be honest, I never thought he was going to be what he is right now, but I knew he could play.

“This kid was getting better too, and never mind being physical, but he always seemed to score. He gets it. He’s one of those guys that always had the puck luck. The puck just came to him, and you don’t teach that. It’s just natural.”

Sanders knew the Preds were interested in adding tough, physical players to skate for their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals – and Jeannot fit the ask. So, Nashville brass took the advice of their scout, and on April 2, 2018, the Predators inked Jeannot to a three-year, entry-level contract, a player barely past his teens who had never heard his name called by another NHL club.

“These 20-year-olds sometimes get forgotten,” Sanders said. “Tanner probably would have been a farmer if he didn’t get a break… He’s such a humble guy, and it’s just so nice to see it happen to him, you know?”

Scott Nichol wasn’t sure what to expect from Tanner Jeannot.

The general manager of the Admirals had never seen the winger play in person prior to his arrival at Predators Development Camp in the summer of 2018.

Nichol doesn’t recall anything spectacular about Jeannot’s performance at that camp, but where the story starts to resonate, Nichol says, is when the forward began his professional career with the Admirals in the 2018-19 campaign.

Jeannot only appeared in 37 games for the Ads that season after breaking his collarbone, but it was the start of something greater.

“I remember him calling me, and he was like, ‘Hey, come up with some drills for me,'” Nichol said of Jeannot. “He was already taking initiative and wanted to work on his skills and stuff from him.”

Jeannot was back in Nashville for training camp in the fall of 2019, but out of that session, he was initially assigned not to Milwaukee, but to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL – something he didn’t see coming.

“That was probably one of my hardest things to do as a new manager was to send him there, because this kid was so all in, and it was good for him, but he couldn’t see it,” Nichol said. “Was it the right thing? I don’t know, but he sure came back and had a fire in his belly. He was like, ‘What do I have to do?’ And we said, “You’ve got to produce a little bit more. You’ve got to find your identity and play with a little bit of an edge.” So, he went down there and scored four goals in three games and got called right back up.”

Jeannot hit the 20-point mark in Milwaukee that season to go along with 87 penalty minutes in 57 games, and the process continued to trend in the right direction. But then the pandemic arrived, and that was it for his sophomore run.

As plans began to take shape later in 2020 for a new season, Jeannot was once again eager to take another step – and unlike the previous campaign, he jumped at an opportunity to head back to the ECHL for a bit.

Florida, and the rest of the teams in the league, were starting training camps ahead of the NHL where players weren’t expected to report until after the start of the new year. Nichol called a handful of prospects in the Predators organization with an offer to go to Florida, get some ice and play a few games before heading to Nashville for main camp – and someone jumped at the opportunity.

“Tanner was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do that,'” Nichol said. “He went down there with a fantastic attitude and went through training camp. He played five games down there, he had three goals and six points…and he just grew his wings and expanded from there. The Admirals didn’t play that season and we had that split affiliation with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL, and he very well could have been our captain.”

Jeannot produced for the Wolves on the scoresheet and in the physicality department, and a fight against veteran tough guy Cody McLeod, Nichol says, was a bit of a coming-out party for Jeannot as someone who could do more than just hold their own.

Jeannot’s improvement was impossible to ignore, and on March 2, 2021, he made his NHL debut with the Preds in Nashville, but the night wasn’t perfect.

“His call-up in Nashville, he only probably played six or seven minutes, and then we sent him back down and he was crushed,” Nichol said. “We have our exit meeting, and we’re just like, ‘You have to put a stamp on your game. Like, OK, you got your first NHL game, it’s under your belt, and now it’s just hockey.'”

Less than two months later, Jeannot was recalled to Nashville again – and he hasn’t looked back.

“The next time he came up, he played exactly how he played in Chicago,” Nichol said. “He just took off. You could just see the confidence in him. Now, it’s like every other game he has some kind of cut on his face like he was destined to play in the NHL just by his hard work and his dedication to his craft. He worked on his skills, and his skating was a big knock on him. But he forged an identity for how he wants to play, and now you watch him, and he has it. He looks like he’s enjoying it, like he has fun being that player out there. It’s a great story of perseverance and earning everything he was given.”

Tanner Jeannot wasn’t really anticipating any of this.

Sure, he believed in himself, but being an undrafted hockey player, Jeannot knew he needed to make his own name for himself. The dream was always to play in the NHL, but there are only so many spots available, and the odds of making it will always be low – unless the decision makers no longer have a choice to ignore the obvious.

“My focus going into every day is just to get better,” Jeannot said. “I’ve said it before, and it’s continuing to be my focus. I just want to continue to improve and keep making the people that helped bring me here proud and keep making the people that have given me the opportunities proud. That’s my goal , and I just want to help the team win.”

Jeannot is doing a bit more than these days.

Deservedly in the conversation for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, no first-year player does more than Jeannot.

He has more goals (24) and penalty minutes (123) than any rookie in the League, and his 21 even-strength tallies and five game-winners are tied for first among his peers. Jeannot is as tough as they come, as one might expect a player who hails from Oxbow, Saskatchewan, to be, and there’s not a single opponent he won’t take on to stick up for a teammate or give his club a boost.

The Predators have harped on playing to their identity all season long, and if there is a question as to what that style of hockey entails, Jeannot would be happy to show and tell.

“This is my dream to play in the NHL, and I wanted to do everything I could to make it,” Jeannot said. “I didn’t want to have any regrets. I didn’t want to be guessing at what type of player they wanted me to be. I just wanted to know what I needed to do and worked towards doing that, and that’s what I continue to do. I try to demand as much coaching as I can see what the coaches want from me and how I can help the team best. I just try to do that to the best of my ability.”

That coaching and instruction has paid dividends, and Jeannot knows he wouldn’t be where he is today without those behind the scenes helping him to become the best player he can be.

“All those [development coaches] and the coaches in Milwaukee, everyone’s been so good in helping me develop,” Jeannot said. “They’ve been giving me great advice and just giving me advice on the type of player I need to be to have success. I’ve just been trying to listen to the best I can and continue to grow as a player. They’ve all been really great, and I can’t thank them enough.”

The Preds are certainly thanking Jeannot for his contributions on and off the ice, and for those on the development staff, finding satisfaction in the rookie’s progress comes quite naturally.

“It’s a great story because he did it himself,” Nichol said. “He would lean on players and coaches and organizations to help him through it, but he reached out for it, and it wasn’t fake. It was very genuine. He would say, ‘This is how I’m going to get there “OK, I’ve got to work on my skating. OK, what’s your plan for me?”

“But we have a plan for all of them. We want every single player we draft or every single free agent we sign, college free agents we sign, we want them to end up like Tanner Jeannot. That’s our goal.”

He’s in the midst of an NHL playoff race, and he just became a father for the first time, but Jeannot still finds time every day to think of where he came from and remember what it took to get here.

Those thoughts keep him humble and serve as a reminder that nothing is guaranteed. Back in 2018, 30 other NHL teams didn’t think much of him either, but one franchise decided to take a chance.

The Preds saw something in Jeannot, and while they may not have seen this coming, they’re not necessarily surprised.

“He’s just a good person,” Nichol said of Jeannot. “Good people make it because they treat people right and they’re very humble. They’re appreciative of everything that they get because they work hard. He comes from a good, hard-working family, and it’s a great story, but it’s not over. He’s got a lot of chapters left. He’s just starting his career, so it’ll be fun, at the very end of it, to see what he does.”

And Jeannot himself? As the saying goes, he’s just living the dream, even if he has to pinch himself from time to time.

“It’s been a pretty crazy ride,” Jeannot said. “Looking back to junior, and even before junior, like, who would ever thought that I would have made it here? But that was my goal every day. Whenever I’m talking to kids or anything like that, I like to just say , ‘If you work towards it and you really want it and you do everything you can, you’re going to give yourself the best shot and you never know what can happen.’ There are always people watching even when you don’t think they are. I just try to work as hard as I can to earn everything that I’m getting, and hopefully more good things come. I’m going to keep working towards it , and I just want to do everything I can to help the team win here.”

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