Where Are They Now? Jeff Tambellini

Jeff Tambellini has succeeded at every level of hockey.

Except one.


Jeff Tambellini is the epitome of what baseball scouts would call a 4A player; too good for Triple-A but not good enough to stick in the ‘big leagues’. His junior career began in 1999, at the tender age of 15. He joined the Port Coquitlam Buckaroos of Pacific International Junior Hockey League (PIJHL). The league is stationed near Vancouver, British Columbia. He had 31 goals in his only season with the Buckaroos, netting him a multitude of honors including Rookie Of The Year.


After the 1999-00, he went on to play two seasons with the Chiliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League. This was an ‘A’ level league and brought Tambellini that much closer to his goal of becoming a professional hockey player. After an average 2000-01 season, his next campaign blew away any of his wildest dreams.


In only 34 games, Tambellini averaged over three points a game. He finished with 46 goals and 71 assists for 117 points. He received the Brett Hull as the league’s leading scorer and was named MVP of the Conference. His success continued in post-season play, as he led his team to the league and regional championships. It was a season to remember for Tambellini, a season he wouldn’t duplicate again.


After a career year, Tambellini left juniors in Canada. His next stop was with the University Of Michigan Wolverines. A move that most players wouldn’t make, especially with the immense success the year prior. He would play three years for Michigan. The 2002-03 season saw Tambellini earn CCHA All-Rookie Team and Rookie Of The Year Honors. After his freshmen year, the 2003 NHL Entry Draft was on the horizon. An opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps, an opportunity to become a NHL player.


Tambellini was able to fulfill his dream as he was selected 27th by the Los Angeles Kings in the Entry Draft. Although he was drafted in the 1st round, he had unfinished business to attend to at the college ranks. The 2003-04 season saw a steep decline in production for Michigan. Even with a difficult collegiate season, he was still selected to represent Canada in the 2004 World Junior Championships. He was the only NCAA player selected to the team; a team that included Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards, Marc-Andre Fluery, Dion Phaneuf and Jeff Carter. Canada won a Silver medal losing their Gold medal matched 4-3 to the United States.



‘Show Time’ 


After a bounce-back season for Tambellini in 2004-05 with Michigan where he was the CCHA Tournament MVP and led the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament, his collegiate career was over and a new chapter was beginning.


August 15, 2005, a day Jeff Tambellini will always remember. He received an entry-level contract to join the Los Angeles Kings, forgoing his final year at Michigan. Like most 21 year olds, the transition from college to now being a professional athlete, was challenging. He began the season with the Kings AHL Affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire after training camp ended. For two months, he honed his craft in the American Hockey League (AHL) before earning a call-up. His NHL dream was finally reached, but the reality of the business would strike Tambellini just four games later. After only four games, he was sent back to Manchester to continue his development. In 56 games for the Monarchs, he scored 56 points, on average one point a game.


March 8, 2006. Jeff Tambellini was traded to the New York Islanders in exchange for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel. The Islanders were slashing payroll and the Kings were trying not to allow a tremendous start to their season go to waste. Both teams would find themselves out of the playoff picture come April. Tambellini completed the season with the Islanders. He scored his first National Hockey league against none other than Martin Brodeur. In 21 games, he had four points. 


Tambellini found himself in a similar position for next two seasons. He dominated the AHL, setting records in scoring and points, essentially playing too well to keep in the minors. His success at the NHL level wasn’t the same, to say the least. To compare, in 107 AHL games, Tambellini scored 68 goals, in 54 NHL games(nearly half) 3 goals. A production decrease is expected, but the level of decrease was an issue. A player that looked so dominant in one league, looked very pedestrian any time he suited up for the Islanders.


The Islanders decided on a two-year contract for Tambellini at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. He would also spend the entire season, less a condition stint, with the Islanders. He would create chances and find himself in good position, but the goals and points just weren’t coming. He played 65 games in 2008-09 and scored just 15 points. 


His final season with the Islanders was in 2009-10. Tambellini found himself as the go-to guy in the shootout during that season. His 60% success rate led the team. 


Playing for the Vancouver Canucks was Tambellini’s childhood dream. In a story straight out of Disney, his dream was made a reality during free agency heading into the 2010-11. He took a two-way league minimum contract to join his hometown team amid interest from numerous suitors. He found some success in Vancouver during his stay, scoring 9 goals over 62 games. His two-play had improved considerably and he wasn’t as much of a defensive liability as in years prior. He also experienced the Stanley Cup Playoffs with Vancouver. He played in six games during the playoffs. 


Free-Agency once again forced Tambellini to find a new employer. Instead of continuing in the NHL, he was courted by the ZSC Lions of Switzerland. Comparing the league as an in-between the AHL and NHL, Tambellini has flourished this season. In 50 regular season games, playing alongside former NHL’er Michael Nylander, he scored 23 goals and had 22 assists leading the Lions into the playoffs. The Lions currently have a commanding 2-0 advantage in their Semi-Final matchup against EV Zug.


There is a major difference between every other league in the world and the NHL.


Just ask Jeff Tambellini.


My take on  JT Circa 2007


Jeff Tambellini is just another player in a long-line of could have beens. He has ability to put the puck in the net, no doubt there, but it always seemed like it was a lack of direction and focus with him throughout his career. He never found a position, or a job that he could excel at. Look at someone like Josh Bailey, another highly touted high draft pick. It looks like he won’t be a 30-40 goal scorer in the league. Ok, so develop something that makes you valuable. This season, as Shane Blackburn stated in his article, has been a revelation for the 22 year old center/wing. His ability to play a two-way game, while being able to cash in with 10-15 goals, many of them spectacular, has made his value skyrocket going forward. Having him, in tandem with Frans Nielsen on the Penalty Kill can be Jay Pandolfo-John Madden of our generation. Tambellini was given every opportunity to succeed, it just never happened here. He was a hardworking kid, but it never came together. 


Final Thought


Why do I think that in around 4-6 years, I am going to be doing a ‘Where Are They Now?’ about Nino? Just have a feeling... 


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Rob McGowan's picture

I don't think it's fair to compare Nino to Tambellini just yet. Tambellini had years and years spent in the NHL trying to give him a chance to play as a top six forward. Nino hasn't even gotten that chance yet and has only been used on the fourth line because they couldn't send him to the minors, Snow has said that himself.

If we don't see more out of Nino in two to three years, meaning contributions on the top two lines, then we can start to worry. I give him that much time because I think we will see him start next season with the Sound Tigers.