David Tanabe was one of the original class of high school players to train under the very successful United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor Michigan. Jordan Leopold, Adam Hall and Joe Goodenow, son of former NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow.
Tanabe was a 6'1" 200lb defenseman out of White Bear Lake, Minnesota. After graduating from the National Team Development Program he went to the University of Wisconsin. But after just one season with the Badgers he turned pro as the Carolina Hurricanes drafted him in the 1st round 16th overall in 1999.
The right handed Tanabe was an amazing skater, blessed with speed and agility. Comparisons to Scott Niedermayer were not without merit. Well, at least in terms of skating.
Where Tanabe/Niedermayer comparisons quickly ended was in hockey sense. His offensive vision relied a lot on his skating ability. He could make a good first pass or rush the puck end to end and looked comfortable on the power play. But 5 on 5 he was a defenseman who needed to be sheltered from the top opposition players.
Where Tanabe really struggled was with his defensive reads in particular. It got so bad some Carolina fans dubbed him "Avi," as in David without and D (DaviD - D leave you with Avi).
Part of that was his lack of a physical game. Tanabe was always a little lean for a NHL defenseman. His upper body strength and conditioning slowly got better, but he was never a tough defenseman to play against. He also battled asthma and kept an inhaler on the bench during games.
The bottom line - David Tanabe was an intriguing defender blessed with an impressive ability to skate and solid offensive ability. He may be a perfect example of a player who was rushed to the pros. Had Tanabe stayed at the University of Wisconsin and developed his game for 2 or 3 more years, he could have had a much smoother transition to the NHL game.
David Tanabe was forced off the ice in the 2007-08 season due to a severe concussion. He finished his career with 449 games played and 30 goals, 84 assists and 114 points. He added another 2 goals and 3 points in 7 playoff games.