Our beloved Oklahoma City Barons are a stingy, stingy hockey team. They get battered and reload. They get down, but jump back up. They aren't only the best team in the Western Conference, but the best team in the American Hockey League. They defy call-ups, are insatiably fun to watch, and are certainly well coached. Yet stingy is the word that best defines this squad through 30ish games. And stingy is how I most commonly define one AHL rookie that is quietly bettering his game from week-to-week. Tanner House, the Cochrane, Alberta native, is one of eight Barons rookies whom are all attempting to find their niche in their first professional season. A far cry from the rookie class of last season that featured Linus Omark and Teemu Hartikainen, this year's crop is of a different mold. House, for one, is a four-year college kid with a sharp game and matching smarts. At the University of Maine he not only ended his collegiate career as Hockey East's Best defensive forward, but he also earned a 3.85 GPA majoring in finance. He's an intelligent kid both on and off the ice, but it's his rugged gamesmanship that really has the Oilers and Barons taking notice.
Slowly becoming a workhorse of a forward line, the Tremblay-O'Marra-House trio is a little bit of feist, and a whole lotta sass. Ryan O'Marra, now flanked by two rookies, becomes the vet centerman that is equal parts mucky goal scorer, superb face-off winner, and tenacious defender that two newcomers really need. He leads by example, and his decent NHL showings prove he can get some work done. House follows that lead, and through 34 professional games to-date he's tallied five goals, nine assists, and a stellar +12. But it's the defense that's the most winning adjective for this forward.
House isn't large or brawny, but his nearly 6' 1" frame is durable. Prone to rough-and-tumble bouts with the opposition's top forwards, he moves his weight around properly. He's a strong check finisher, and has a knack for removing players from the puck. As expected from a defensive-minded forward, he moves very well away from the puck. He understands the angles of the game, and rarely makes mistakes in the offensive zone.
The Net Work
House isn't necessarily a net-crasher, but he's not afraid to stand his ground in front of the crease. He's taken sticks to the face, checks in the back, and nasty trips as a result, but he weathers well. For a player that leans towards defense, he isn't afraid to put the puck on net, but this usually takes place within a six foot distance from the goal crease.
Improving quickly, but still an eye sore, is House's passing. The propensity to turn the puck over in neutral ice often is a problem. There are times that House could simply move the puck with solid hands as opposed to passing, but pass often he will, and sometimes through treacherous middle ice. Tanner knows this, and has quickly listened to the coaching staff in practice. He's improved greatly over a two month period, but still needs some work.
The Grind (or not)
It's hard to label a guy like Tanner House a "grinder" because he really can become a scoring threat when given the chance. He's very strong on the boards and in the corners on the PP. He's also very strong on the PK which is one of the best in the entire league. Tanner usually sees the last half of the kill, and completely understands the need to pressure forwards into making poor decisions. I like this part of his game more than any other because it's progressive in nature. Coach Nelson clearly feels the same way as the PK TOI has steadily increased.
For a non-defenseman with a smaller build, House is a surprisingly strong skater. He'll bump and hit, and take the same abuse in return. He takes it all in stride without being pushed around. He's also smart when skating with the puck. No parallel movements along the boards that allow punishing blows. Once again, he's a smart player.
I'm not a huge fan of plus/minus ratings, but given the small pool of statistical analysis in the minors, it does shed a little light on how a player is trending. Four goals and nine assists in 27 games this season isn't all that impressive, but a stellar +9 certainly is. Perhaps he's a decent young player thriving on a naturally gifted team, but hanging on a third line, and increasing time on the PK means that he's winning the small battles.
To recap, Tanner House is a smaller defensive forward that is strong on his skates, eager to stand in the crease, persistent around the boards, but struggles to pass the puck well with confidence and consistency.
Recently Coach Nelson has sung the praises of the lines featuring Tanner House, namely when O'Marra and Tremblay are involved. A forward line that works hard, thwarts mistakes, and consistently closes opponents in the trenches will always win the admiration of a head coach. House, on a two year contract, is really a fine prospect. In a league where scoring forwards get the most attention, it's players like House that play important roles and mature over time. Can House find a place as an undrafted, four year collegiate guy within an organization that needs good players, and almost immediately? Quite possibly. Think of him in the same regards as a player like Chris Vande Velde, but with a slightly better outlook. When his first pro contract runs its course, it will pay off greatly to have House increase his overall scoring totals. He's not a great "sell" as prospect that defends well as a forward, but he certainly is improving every other aspect of his game to win over his few critics.
Keep an eye on the line of Hunter Tremblay, Ryan O'Marra, and Tanner House in the second half of the season. As the stakes get higher, the need for these guys grows increasingly stronger. House will indeed play an integral role on this year's Barons team. One that might be a premonition of things to come.